William Delahunt’s Big, Bad Marijuana Flip-Flop

The former U.S. Congressman and Norfolk County D.A. is now the biggest medical marijuana dealer in Massachusetts to have ever put people behind bars for using his new product.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

The recipients of the first medical marijuana dispensary licenses in Massachusetts were announced last week by the Department of Public Health, but even before the news came out, critics were crying foul play. Former U.S. Congressman and longtime Norfolk County District Attorney William Delahunt—now president of a company called Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts—had applied for three of just 35 licenses that can be awarded by the state. No stranger to accusations of underhanded deals, Delahunt was accused by the Massachusetts Republican Party of leveraging his relationship with DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett—who once donated money to his PAC.

Then, when the first group of 20 licensees was announced and Delahunt’s group was awarded all three of the licenses it sought, Massachusetts Republicans lashed out again. “The public cannot have faith in the decisions made by the Department of Public Health because of the apparent conflict of interest for Commissioner Bartlett and the secrecy surrounding the awarding of licenses,” wrote MassGOP executive director Rob Cunningham. (A full list of the licensees and an explanation behind the application process can be read here.)

Whether or not you think Cunningham has a point, you don’t need to look that deep into the licensing process to come away with a bad taste in your mouth. Let’s begin with the very idea that Delahunt, the District Attorney for Norfolk County from 1976 to 1996—a man whose job it was, for decades, to arrest and prosecute citizens for the possession and sale of marijuana—now has three state-issued licenses to deal weed. On its face, this is a perversion so absurd it’s practically comical. It’s so unprecedentedly offensive, it’s hard to find a comparison. It’s as if a local MADD chapter  scooped up a suddenly vacated liquor license. Or PETA availed itself of loosened food truck restrictions to operate a sausage stand, maybe. How opportunistic is it? It’s like, well, spending years opposing the Cape Wind project, then earmarking 1.7 million in federal money to support a wind-energy project in Hull, and then—after leaving office—conspiring to have your lobbying firm reap heavy consulting fees from the same project you formerly opposed but just earmarked federal funds for. That’s exactly what Delahunt did—or at least planned to do, until the New York Times pointed out the brazenness of the scheme, and the Globe quoted experts calling the deal a “self-made golden parachute.” Only then did the former Congressman have a sudden change of heart, announcing that he was declining to take the town’s money.

You can tell this is not Delahunt’s first rodeo. According to a Herald story from earlier this year, Delahunt, who once pledged to ‘hit [marijuana dealers] where it hurts’ in the ‘90s, now says the difference is that, “They weren’t using it then for medicinal purposes” back then.

“No one has ever died of a marijuana overdose,” Delahunt said recently. No, but plenty have had their lives ruined by it, specifically because of the overreaching actions of prosecutors and lawmakers like Delahunt, who—now noticing that the political winds are shifting—aren’t simply content to say they were wrong on pot all along. They also want to get paid. Even in a state like Massachusetts, where dispensaries are required to be structured as non-profits, there’s lots of money to be made. Medical marijuana dispensary revenues per year can run from anywhere between a couple hundred thousand dollars, to tens of millions on the high end. Changing your tune on pot looks like a very lucrative move.

To be clear: Delahunt wasn’t the only former lawmaker or law enforcement hypocrite to get in line. Other applicants included former state senator Brian P. Lees, whose group was granted a license, and former Worcester County sheriff Guy Glodis, whose application was denied. But Delahunt alone holds the distinction of now being the biggest medical marijuana dealer in the state to have ever put thousands of people behind bars for using his new product.

How many people did Delahunt lock up for peddling the weed he’s now dealing? Exact numbers are hard to come by. The current Norfolk District Attorney’s Office and the Quincy District Court Clerk’s office said they don’t keep those sorts of specific arrest records, or don’t have access to them. But by combing through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting data—with a big assist from data provided by nationally renowned marijuana activist Jon Gettman—we can make a back-of-the-napkin estimate. From 1985 to 1996 (Delahunt’s last year as DA), 6,381 people were arrested for marijuana-related offenses, with 5,459 of them for mere possession. If we assume a comparable pattern for the decade prior, during which marijuana arrests rates maintained roughly the same pace nationwide, that’s somewhere around 10,000 people who had their lives upended under Delahunt’s authority for merely using the product he wants to cash in on.

Of course, Delahunt’s authority is exactly what the state’s new medical-marijuana regime has been craving. Our peculiar Puritanical application of medical marijuana follows the example of Rhode Island before us: the trick is to have “upstanding” citizens on the boards of medical marijuana dispensaries as a means to soften their image and make them more palatable to the communities. After all, if a good guy like Delahunt is on board, how bad can these demon weed factories be?

Such is the strangeness of this particular moment that even Delahunt’s former enemies—the very champions of marijuana legalization who defended the practice that Delahunt prosecuted for so many years—won’t outright condemn his about-face. Why? Because they, too, are hungry for the legitimization that Delahunt’s flip-flop has brought to the industry. “There’s no doubt one can be fairly jaded in seeing people who spent a lot of time enforcing marijuana prohibition like he did now put their fingers up to the political winds,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. “Not even for moral reasons, but for purely economic ones, championing causes that they never championed when they had the reigns of power in their hands.”

But, St. Pierre says, it’s also a sign of progress. “When our traditional opponents come to realize they were wrong, we should embrace that and not be punitive to them. As much as that might be fun and feel good on visceral level, it’s different on a political level.” In his 20 years at NORML, he’s seen many politicians come and go who once favored prohibition, but have now changed their tune. “One has to see that as a good thing.”

Perhaps, but as the moralists and scolds who’ve long cautioned against the use of marijuana always told us, getting yourself wrapped up in the drug game is bad news. You never know what kind of unsavory characters you going to end up doing business with.

  • fanonscudder

    How about Finneran? He is a registered lobbyist for Avum which I believe applied for licenses in Northampton, Worcester, and Lowell?

  • Voiceof thecitizens

    Don’t blame Delehunt, he was simply following laws that were put in place and probably influenced by the propaganda campaign against cannabis. This also goes go to show you that money and power is the reason for cannabis prohibition. 75 years of propaganda has done nothing but harm. The number of politicians, law enforcement, and federal workers that want to end cannabis prohibition are growing day by day.

    Ending cannabis prohibition has public safety written all over it by allowing adults access to cannabis tested for impurities from a safe secure outlet while keeping money stateside. Thank the citizens and State of Colorado for taking the first step. Speak out to your representatives to support ending cannabis prohibition.

    • YouSirAreAMoron

      Uhh, this article is about calling out a hypocrite. You mean to tell me of the 7,000 people he prosecuted he was thinking the whole time “Man, I really hate to do this..” Bullshit.

      • Voiceof thecitizens

        No where did I state “he was thinking, Man, I really hate to do this..” Dalehunt obviously performed his duties as a Judge as the law required. Is it possible that after years of prosecuting cannabis offenders, his first hand experience in seeing that cannabis prohibition is wrong.

        Unfortunately like others, there comes a point when the light-bulb goes off. Then realization comes into play to see the value of cannabis to society.

        What’s “Bullshit” is keeping your head in the sand and supporting cannabis prohibition.

        Applaud the citizens and State of Colorado for taking the first step. Ending prohibition has public welfare and safety written all over it allowing adults access to cannabis tested for impurities from a safe secure outlet while keeping money stateside.

  • MikeParent

    See, it never was about the substance, it’s about who can control it.

  • robertderego

    No fear, he should fear to do such a thing, that some “crazy” person who sat in jail one day too long might come and take him from his family. I hope he has problems sleeping at night, he should.

    • Voiceof thecitizens

      He didn’t create the law.

      • robertderego

        He never voiced that gentle non violent people were going to jail and it is problematic, racist in origins and inhumane. He pretended it was a huge problem that people were using it and used increased arrests to amplify is budget to arrest more. We have DEA, Congress men and old DAs all going to make money providing something that they were too afraid to get off the “but the children” cross. Some of us are people of principles, if you take a job serving the people of this country and participate in this treason, you should fear for your life. The people flipping burgers have better ethics and it is because they have always been held accountable, unlike our “servants”. We are all guilty when we have not voiced the injustice that happens every day across this country as honest good folks are treated the same as rapist and had their ass holes spread apart and inspected for tobacco before being thrown in a population of actual criminals.

      • robertderego

        worst he enforced an un-american law. People at burger king have better principles because they are held accountable. He and his family should live in fear, pure scum

  • Matthew Cunningham

    I waiting for a discussion on reparations for the million ruin by these bad law makers.

  • Matson Law

    This seems more like a case of being an opportunist than anything else.

    The wealthy and well-connected do whatever they want. Shocking.

    • jake481

      Yeah, he’ll make a lot of money being on this end of the argument now.

  • malcolmkyle

    In a dangerous and futile attempt to stamp out alcohol, tobacco, heroin, marijuana, pornography, prostitution, marital infidelity, and even masturbation, this former land of the prosperous and free has been shamelessly pillaged by groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Society, The Anti-Saloon League, The Anti-Cigarette Movement, The Social Purity Movement, The Social Hygiene Movement, and now our latter day Drug Warriors.

    Prohibitionists often express the belief that the resulting suffering and mayhem that their policy engenders is in no way connected to the basic and erroneous mechanism of prohibition. They simply claim that they haven’t yet been granted sufficient governmental powers to make prohibition work. These sadistic, sociopathic, perverts actually believe that only the removal of even more of our basic individual rights and freedoms will allow them to do their “work” successfully.

    Legalizing and regulating all drugs will not increase consumption—everything is already available right now. Drugs of all varieties are cheap and plentiful, and the basic economics of drug dealing remain: Take one dealer off the street, and another takes his place. Something that simply doesn’t happen for real crimes like murder, embezzlement, assault or burglary.

    The Founding Fathers were not social conservatives who believed that citizens should be subordinate to any particular narrow religious moral order—this is what the whole concept of unalienable individual rights means. And sumptuary laws, especially in the form of prohibition, were something they continually warned about.

  • Silverado

    He should be welcomed into the….fold. All this proves is that it’s never too late to repent and change your evil ways. If this guy can do it so can every other freedom robbing drug warrior – IF they really want to. And for the capitalist inside of us all, having some profit motive sure doesn’t hurt either. More power to em…

  • blc49

    Marijuana arrests for possession of small amounts rarely result in jail time; conflating arrests and jail time is a tactic of pot propagandists. Jail time for users of other drugs is a reality, but we only hear about the damage of getting arrested for marijuana, which are not comparable at all unless one is selling. RE Delahunt: People can change their minds. Furthermore, medical marijuana is low legal there, so what’s the big deal? He is not selling it to underage young people. I am totally opposed to marijuana legalization, but to call him out for simply changing his mind is stupid. I think he is wrong to change his mind because smoking is unhealthy and smoked medicine is an oxymoron. Also it is just a front for recreational use–very few use it for medical reasons. The author seems to be pro-marijuana, so he should pick his battles

    • Howie Katzz

      Something else pro pot advocates forget (willfully or otherwise): Reducing the number of drug-users ipso facto reduces the harm of using drugs, which is a success.

      • Mj

        It’s not even about the jail time, it’s about the hundreds of thousands of criminal records dealt to mostly high school and college students who then automatically become a burden for society since it is nearly impossible to be hired for a good job.

        American adults should be able to use a plant anyway they see fit. Enforce intoxicated driving, etc, however, Marijuana does not need to be smoked. It can be cooked into oils, used in foods, tinctures, eye drops, vaporized (heated but not burned and no carcinogens) and even lotions and pill form. Why does it need to be kept illegal just because some people might smoke it. Many others don’t and more are beginning to prefer non smokable forms. It is an herb, and an incredible medicine. It is not a drug anymore than tea is a drug. They are grown, picked and generally heated, the only difference is the euphoria.

      • Being Frank

        Howie Katzz reducing the number of drug users has done nothing at all to reduce the harm of using drugs? That makes absolutely no sense. Heroin is harmful regardless of how many users are using it. Even if just 1 user is using it, it is still just as harmful. Your point, or lack of, is the perfect example of what the opposition has to work with on this specific issue of cannabis…absolutely NOTHING! Hence why pieces of garbage like DelaCUNT are flip flopping and for it now. Has nothing to do with harm to people but everything to do with easy money to be made now that the general public is opening their eyes instead of being blinded like your generation, obviously!

    • A Freedom Fighter

      first of all it’s completely silly to think that the only way to consume cannabis is by smoking. I use and herb vaporizer, no smell no smoke no harm. Second clearly shown by figures direct from the CDC dot gov alcohol tobacco and prescription drugs kill 650,000 people per year in this country. Also according to the CDC, cannabis overdose kills 0 not a single person in all medical history.

    • Mike Schnetzler

      This is not true blc49…There are people serving life sentences for Marijuana. If you think that this man “changed him mind” about this for any other reason other than MONEY you would be sadly mistaken.Beside spending 1 days or even 10 minutes in jail or paying a fine for possessing God greatest gift to mankind is completely insane. It is all about money to scum bags like this. There are other ways to ingest Marijuana then smoking it also. Marijuana Cure Cancer helps people with MS and Cerebral Palsy live a somewhat normal productive life. And you have a problem with that ??? What barbaric world do you live in? The truth is coming out and they cannot stop it so now the same people that lied to us about the effects you know the Government, Major Corporations that hold private prison stock, and all the medical companies that have been lying to us all along to sell there drugs that kill us are now going to sell Marijuana to us. You know why? Money!!! It really does not matter what anyone that does not want it to be legalized say’s anymore. It will be Legal Nationwide and they can’t stop it…You know why/ Because the truth is it is the THE MOST HEALING PLANT ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH.
      We the People have spoken and you will legalize it mark my words…Anyone want to bet?

    • SteveIrwin

      So keeping it illegal does what exactly? It creates a black market and turns normal citizens into criminals just like alcohol prohibition did. This man profited from it being illegal as a DA and now he is profiting from it being legal by magically getting his dispensaries approved by the state. How many lives did he pointlessly ruin? He can change his mind sure but this situation is just crappy.

  • Mark Forest

    How about a few facts. As a district attorney, Delahunt’s job was to enforce the law and as a Congressman, Delahunt fought for decriminalization for years. As did the entire Congressional delegation.

    • Steven Bannister

      I’m sorry, but if you locked up kids for dealing pot you shouldn’t be allowed to make millions dealing pot yourself 10 years later.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glrQXIl_YNs Phaerisee

    I am glad that our brave veterans with PTSD and severe pain have an alternative to improperly tested, fast-tracked pharmaceuticals and dangerously addictive narcotics.

  • agingcynic

    Worth mentioning is Delahunt’s expertise at extricating pension money from the public coffers. Prior to retirement from the DA’s office, he lobbied to have all DAs included in the same pension class as people who carry guns, get shot at and run into burning buildings. While collecting THAT fattened pension, he served in Congress and then retired with THAT additional pension. Now he is Triple Dipping in a way that must leave Billy Bulger marveling in admiration. Absolute power DOES corrupt absolutely.