Mass. drug decriminalization could extend beyond marijuana

Photo: luxury.rehabs.com
Photo: luxury.rehabs.com

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem said Wednesday she would consider decriminalizing some drugs, including cocaine, in an effort to treat non-violent drug offenders differently within the criminal justice system.

“Decriminalization of marijuana has been important. I think we should consider it for other drugs, or create more drug courts so that people do not fall into the criminal justice system,” Kayyem said.

When asked after her public appearance which drugs she was referring to, Kayyem did not mention specifics.

“I would actually want to look at that, but I mean, I think what you’re seeing in other states is getting, you know, getting drug offenders, whatever the drugs are, it might be cocaine, it might be crack, whatever, out of the criminal justice system by essentially decriminalizing it and getting them into drug court or whatever else it is.” Kayyem said. The state currently has drug courts in some jurisdictions that require defendants to enter rehabilitation, residential placement, education or job programs.

In an interview after the event at Suffolk University Law School, Kayyem told the News Service she does not support decriminalizing a small amount of cocaine in the same manner that possession of smaller amounts of marijuana was deemed a civil offense in 2008. Kayyem said she meant the word “decriminalization” to refer to moving offenders out of the criminal justice system, into specialized drug courts and treatment programs and enacting sentencing reform for non-violent offenders.

“I meant it in terms of the policy, of using our criminal justice system to deal with drug problems,” Kayyem said, adding “not how it came to mean decriminalization of marijuana.”

“We should orient our criminal justice system so that the punishment of non-violent drug use offenders is not to put them in jail,” Kayyem said.

At the Suffolk event, Kayyem said the $100 fine for marijuana possession in Massachusetts “seems about right.” The $100 fine is for possession of one ounce or less of the drug and is considered a civil offense.

Kayyem described criminal justice in the state as “led by a whole law and order philosophy that no one’s ever been able to get their head to just rethink it,” putting too many people in jail and leaving the state with a recidivism rate that’s too high.

Kayyem, one of five Democrats seeking to replace Gov. Deval Patrick next year, took part in a forum at Suffolk Law School hosted by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service and fielded questions from the audience of about 75 students, academics and others.

Many of Kayyem’s answers and anecdotes during the forum stemmed from her experience as an Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Kayyem’s involvement on the ground in the Gulf Coast states after the BP oil spill disaster played into what she said is her experience dealing with different communities and situations.

Kayyem said the challenge for the next governor would be in the storage and transmission of renewable energy. She suggested tax incentives for “green banks” that would invest in clean energy infrastructure.

Asked by former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, a vocal opponent of casino gambling in the state, about casinos, Kayyem said she has “been pretty clear that I do not support the repeal of casinos.”

Kayyem said the budget she envisions and plans for upon taking office would rely on funds from the licensing and revenue of operational casinos. The process set up by the expanded gaming law and executed by the Gaming Commission, Kayyem said, is the most rigorous in the country and made her more comfortable with gaming. Using revenue from gaming to pay for social programs is another reason she would keep the law.

“If there are ways to replace that revenue, that I can do on day one, I will constantly reassess the casino process. I can’t do that on day one. So I’m not going to come in on day one and say ‘I want to repeal them,’” Kayyem told Harshbarger, who disclosed that his wife is a supporter of Kayyem.

On pushing for increased revenue through more progressive taxation, Kayyem again mentioned that her short-term budget can’t rely on funds that would face strong legislative opposition. Kayyem told the crowd there’s “only so much running at windmills I want to do as governor. I want to get things done.”

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