In late May, I got in a discussion about cannabis legalization in Wisconsin with State Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) in a thread on his Facebook page. Despite not sponsoring any pot-related legislation during his ten years in office, it still seemed possible he might be more open to reform representing an urban district that includes the city of Racine. State crime stats show the numbers of arrests in Racine County for both possession and sales have been steadily rising in the last 6 years as the chart below notes. (By contrast, just to the north in Milwaukee County, pot arrests have been steadily falling in the same timeframe.)
But Mason was not very interested in or supportive of cannabis law reform, claiming, “No, I cannot recall a single constituent in ten years contacting me on medical pot.”
Thanks to Wisconsin open records law, we found his statement false and that he not only had received many contacts in support of medical pot, decriminalization and regulated adult use, but that he also even sent out a survey to constituents that included a question asking their opinions on cannabis decriminalization.
He also said, “I appreciate how much people in Madison care about pot. The people who elect me don’t bring it up.”
Mason’s responses were rather stunning from the representative of a county that went from 639 total pot arrests in 2010 to 941 in 2015. Wisconsinites have grown accustomed to the endemic cannabigotry of the Republican caucus, but most Democrats are generally more open to easing pot laws, and most cannabis law reform legislation originates in from the Democratic side of the aisle.
In 2016, cannabis reform legislation took a leap to 13 bills in both houses, all but two Democratic sponsored. Looking at these bills you will find a lot more names than the usual 15 or so Democratic cosponsors of years past, but you will not find Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine).
On Monday May 23, 2016, I filed an Open Records Request (ORR) with Rep. Mason. On June 30, 2016, I received an email from the office of Wisconsin Assembly Chief Clerk Patrick E. Fuller stating there were 249 pages from Rep. Mason’s office available for pickup. I retrieved those records in late August.
First and foremost, the 249 pages squash Rep. Mason’s claim that no constituents contacted him in ten years regarding cannabis.
The files came in three folders. The first folder was 99 pages of copies of cannabis bills, including 8 pages of a hemp bill, of which 4 were blank. My ORR request was for, “all communications regarding marijuana, cannabis, medical marijuana from Jan. 1 2006 to date,” which I later expanded to include “cannabidiol” and “CBD.” I did not request records about hemp. Bill copies are really not “communications,” in that Rep. Mason was aware my request was about disproving his claim that he was unable to, “recall a single constituent in ten years contacting me on medical pot.”
The second disk was much more informative, including 50 responses to a constituent survey. Question 7 on the survey was, “Do you support decriminalizing of possession of small amounts of marijuana?”
Mason claimed he had no recollection of being contacted by constituents about cannabis, but he actually had himself invited constituent contacts regarding cannabis by including a question about it in his survey.
It did seem odd there were only 50 responses to the survey, but of that number, 39 were in favor of decriminalizing cannabis, which works out to 78%. The fact an overwhelming majority of constituent’s surveyed by Rep. Cory Mason are in favor of decriminalization, yet he failed to sign onto a single cannabis reform bill including Rep. Mandela Barnes’ decriminalization bill AB246, shows an amazing disconnect.
Disk 2 also included duplicate pages of a cosponsorship memo on a 2016 medical cannabis bill, a cosponsorship memo on a 2010 hemp bill and responses to constituents supporting the hemp bill.
Disk 3 includes 57 letters from Rep. Mason to constituents who had apparently contacted his office. Unlike other offices, copies of the actual communications from those individuals were not included for some reason. So over 50 constituents did contact Rep. Mason about cannabis legislation independent of those who responded to his survey. Between the two sets of documents, by the records he himself produced, Rep. Mason interacted with at least over a hundred of his constituents about cannabis.
A March 2014 response to constituent reveals Mason was aware of constituent concerns about the racial aspects of cannabis prohibition writing, “Thank you for contacting me about ending the war on marijuana and the racial disparity in arrest rates for drug offenses. I appreciate you taking the time to contact me about this important issue. Currently, African-Americans in Wisconsin are six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.”
Yet Mason was one of a handful of Democrats who did not sponsor nor cosponsor a single bill that would have addressed such inequalities.
Rep. Mason’s responses make it sound as if he actually does care about the injustices of cannabis prohibition. “Thank you again for taking the time to share your views on this important issue with me,” he assured constituents in his responses.
Mason did vote No on 2013 SB150, a GOP sponsored bill that gave local prosecutors a second chance to charge people with small amounts of pot whom the district attorney declines to charge. But with 59% of Wisconsinites now in favor of regulating cannabis like alcohol, according to a July 2016 Marquette Law School Poll, Rep. Mason is clearly out of touch with state voters who also support legal access to medical pot even more strongly.
Mason is seeking reelection to a sixth 2-year term this November and is opposed by Libertarian George Meyers, who he defeated in 2014. Meyers declined to comment for this post.