By Molly Coombs
Protesters outside a Back Bay cafe were not on the menu at a fundraiser for Sen. Scott Brown. They were supporting the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann) in its fight against Brown’s proposed legislation to increase fines to $1000 for possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle.
About a dozen people held signs and passed out flyers to raise awareness of the controversial initiative.
The group leafleted outside Mistral, a small Back Bay restaurant, in mid-April, a more intimate gathering than the thousands who gather for MassCann’s Boston Freedom Rally, held in the fall on the Boston Common.
“There’s a $60-a-plate benefit dinner going on for Scott Brown,” said Bill Downey, president of MassCann NORML, explaining the protest’s timing. “He’s trying to raise money to countermand his constituents and turn pot possession back into an arrestable offense.”
Brown (R-Wrentham) made his proposal four months after Massachusetts voters approved Question 2, a referendum which decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and reduced penalties for this amount to a $100 fine. The ballot question received 65% of the vote statewide, and 66.1% of Brown’s senatorial district, portions of Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex counties, that supported decriminalization.
“He doesn’t feel obligated to give me a reason for this bill,” said Downey. “It must be pretty strong reasoning to go against two-thirds of his constituency.”
Attendees to the fundraiser arrived trickled in, their suits and cocktail dresses a sharp contrast to the jeans and jackets of protesters. Most guests rebuffed the flyers, which featured the text of Brown’s bill, facts about the results of Question 2 as well as a doctored photo of Brown as Italian dictator Benito Mussolini labeled “Fascista.”
One man took a flyer from MassCann board member Michael Crawford after exiting his car, only to quickly return it and enter the restaurant, stopping to verbally berate Crawford from the doorway. The protesters laughed off the encounter, continuing their efforts to pass flyers to both fundraiser attendees and passersby on the sidewalk.
“When I read the text of the bill, I was appalled,” said Scott Gacek, a board member for MassCann and professional photographer. In a Facebook conversation with Brown, Gacek asked the senator why he was “trying to subvert the will of 65% of voters in Massachusetts” with his proposal.
“The bill is simply to bring pot in line with the same penalty for an open container of alcohol in a vehicle,” said Brown in the March 20 online conversation. “When laws were passed to clarify where and when you could drink, nobody said they were outlawing booze.”
Gacek expressed reservations over this concept at the protest,
“It’s already illegal to drive stoned out of your mind. That’s driving while intoxicated. Driving with a bag of weed in your car is very different from driving with an open beer.”
Although Brown disagreed in the online debate, he expressed a willingness to discuss Gacek’s concerns at the bill’s hearing.
Yet after requesting that Gacek call off the protest in their Facebook conversation and ignoring them when entering the restaurant, Brown left via the back door at the end of the fundraiser, leaving guests to pass the dwindling number of protesters remaining out front.
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