Friday, April 19, 2024

Cannabis revenue such as from Revolutionary Clinics in Central Square could go toward restitution or reparations plans. (Photo: Tyler Motes)

The creation of a restitution program for Cambridge residents harmed by the war on drugs, funded by cannabis revenue, was tabled Monday by city councillors to give the community more time to weigh in.

The order by councillor Quinton Zondervan and co-sponsored by E. Denise Simmons and Patty Nolan would take “a to-be-determined percentage of revenue from local cannabis sales” and distribute it to current and former residents “harmed by the war on drugs.”

The order was introduced in the wake of pushback on an order to set up a pilot reparations program, which would be funded the same way but distributed to “local Black-owned businesses and to economic empowerment applicants” for recreational marijuana shops. That order, written by Simmons and co-sponsored by Nolan, was set aside June 21 by Zondervan using his “charter right.”

In a foreshadowing of the action on Zondervan’s order, when Simmons’ proposal came back to the council June 28, it was tabled.

Saskia VannJames, of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, said Simmons’ order was well-intentioned, but the focus on business owners rather than the Black community as a whole was misguided. She urged the council to wait for further input from the community, something she echoed in public comment Monday when the issues could be discussed again.

“I want to ask for more time and for a vote on this to be tabled until September so that more community input from residents can be gathered and positioned before the City Council – before you have a vote,” VannJames said. “We are hosting conversations with Cambridge residents in regard to examining equity through an intersectional lens and examining racial equity through that, and we ask for additional time for the two matters.”

Councillors agreed unanimously. Zondervan’s order was tabled; the first, reparations-focused order by Simmons remained tabled.

As Zondervan noted, the orders are separate – his says that “in addition to and separate from reparations for slavery, Cambridge also needs to grapple with its historic and ongoing complicit role in the racist war on drugs that has traumatized thousands of Black and Brown residents.”

Members of the community who want to weigh in on the policies can do so at weekly forums hosted by the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council. Discussions are hosted virtually at 7 p.m. for the next three Mondays. Registration is free.

“We want to do this right. I think it is an extraordinary opportunity to talk to miss VannJames. She’s very thoughtful, and I said to her that I would support the opportunity to have her lead a more authentic, round-up kind of conversation around this and bring back some recommendations,” Simmons said, motioning to set Zondervan’s order aside as hers had been.

Nolan said she hoped the conversations would advance quickly so that the city could “get to the work of actually figuring out how it is that we will do both restitution and reparations from a couple of different perspectives.”