Cambridge, what do reparations mean for you?

The influence of the ‘BigCanna’ industry lobbying our city councilors is on full display and I’m appalled. 

By Saskia VannJames

On June 21st, Cambridge City Councilors Simmons and Nolan introduced an order for a reparations fund. In conversations with Cambridge residents, many are shocked and completely unaware of this. When I attended the city council meeting to speak and listened to Council public comments, a lot of confusion due to lack of clarity was apparent. People who spoke in support of the fund seemed to be unaware that it was a reparations fund. This confusion is undoubtedly intentional. ‘Many of color, the Black and Brown Community, in particular, have been unfairly impacted by the War on Drugs particularly the War on Drugs that pertains to marijuana and that has not stopped. This is an opportunity for us to repair that damage, acknowledge that damage, and make a way for Black and Brown community to heal and repair themselves and as a community come forward.’ said Councilor Simmons during the city council meeting. I want to be clear, Councilor Simmons is correct. This city is complicit in the ongoing violence and dismantling of our Black communities as part of the War on Drugs. All of our city councilors owe us a public apology for their support towards racism. The War on Drugs, in its 50th year anniversary as of 2021, is a racially motivated federally sanctioned, state-backed, and municipally enforced war. And I quote “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.” via former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman. 

This war is one where our municipal leaders worked with the police to destroy our Black and Brown communities. And our Black and Brown communities remain devastated to this day. Oddly enough, the city of Cambridge talks all day long about social equity funds. Yet to this day ZERO apologies have been made towards our communities. I want to also be clear, the War on Drugs disproportionately impacts our Black and Brown communities, however, it impacts white people too. Addiction harms everyone and many white people are struggling from the impact of the war on drugs as well. This is why our state’s economic empowerment program is open to white people as well as people of AAPI, African American, Hispanic, or Latino descent. Essentially everyone regardless of ethnicity is within the program as long as they live in a certain city across the state.

So it was shocking for me to read the reparations policy gives reparations to economic empowerment applicants and local Black-owned businesses.

This policy is backed by a study sponsored by Revolutionary Clinics and was introduced at a city committee meeting through Councilor Simmons. Revolutionary Clinics has sued our city THREE times for creating a priority period for economic empowerment applicants to receive a cannabis license from our city. This is a policy where I worked with our city councilors, literally line by line, to ensure it would uphold legal requirements and our city would not lose to a lawsuit nor be met with a federal investigation, like some of our other corrupt cities that created pay to play systems and have been met with corruption charges. Revolutionary Clinics is a wealthy white male-owned cannabis business that flaunts its racism in the cannabis community. My organization, Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council (MRCC), kicked off a boycott against Revolutionary Clinics two years ago at the Democracy Center. Besides being racist, Revolutionary Clinics also has a history of sexual violence towards their employees as well, with one of their previous employees being sexually assaulted by a senior manager. Between their disrespect towards women and their racist actions towards our Black and Brown communities, MRCC moved the cannabis community into action. And our cannabis community stands to this day, largely in utter disgust against Revolutionary Clinics. Revolutionary Clinics is also a part of a larger nonprofit, the CDA (Cannabis Dispensary Association). The CDA currently has a boycott against them for their ongoing flagrant attacks against social equity where they even threatened the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission with a lawsuit for having a priority period for delivery licenses! Every business in the CDA has been blacklisted and banned from attending cannabis events in Massachusetts - with the exception of their own events. This is a dirty group. And they have NO business interjecting with local race relations in Cambridge, never mind using the War on Drugs as an insidious method to have white people obtain reparations. That's right folks! Their study was used to back the language on the Cambridge reparations policy that allows our municipal cannabis tax funds to go towards everyone that is an economic empowerment applicant. These are people who comprise of all backgrounds living in 28 cities across the state of Massachusetts. Shouldn’t municipal funds be kept for Cambridge residents? And why Black-owned businesses? What about our Black disabled people? And our Black people that are retired? And Black people who don't own a business and don’t want one? Why are Black lives only recognized through our labor? ALL Black Lives Matter. We deserve to be treated as whole human beings and not workhorses for a capitalistic system that since its foundation has only recognized us for our labor. We matter and we are worthy and we are tired. Black people need space to heal and rest. The influence of the ‘BigCanna’ industry lobbying our city councilors is on full display and I’m appalled. 

I write to you today, no I urge you my fellow Cantabrigians, to stand your ground. We as a community must come together immediately. Reparations are a conversation to be held amongst us the people. It is a conversation that is to be held open to all Cambridge residents, and one where black voices will be centered and heard, beginning Monday, July 19th at 7pm. Please join us in the community by registering at bit.ly/cambridgereparations

Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council is a bipoc, woman, queer founded cooperatively ran nonprofit that was established in 2017. In fact, we are the only lobbying organization in the entire state founded and operated where equity is practiced through an intersectional lens. We practice what we preach. I have been a resident of Cambridge for over 15 years, a parent whose child attends our Cambridge public school system, and working to create systemic change for our communities through MRCC is an honor. MRCC is birthed partially from Cambridge and Harvard, with one of our co-founders also a Harvard graduate. We are a reflection of our community and with our community, we continue to stand.

If you would like to support MRCC’s fundraising efforts as we lead our city’s citizen-led campaign for reparations please go to www.massreccouncil.com/donate 

Massachusetts has made over one BILLION dollars and ZERO funds have gone towards restorative justice. The racism we face makes advocacy work on behalf of our communities that much harder and it is everyday donations from people like you that help us achieve our mission. All donations will go in support of MRCC’s restorative justice work.


Saskia VannJames is a lobbyist & Board Member of MRCC.

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