Mass. Marijuana Measure Draws Heat

September 19, 2008

Boston, MA — Backers of a pro-marijuana ballot initiative charged yesterday that 11 district attorneys from Massachusetts violated campaign-finance laws and twisted the truth about the question.

Whitney Taylor, of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, said the DAs raised and spent money to oppose the question before forming their Coalition to Save Our Streets. Campaign-finance laws require groups to form a committee before raising and spending money.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone brushed aside the group’s criticism, calling it a “ploy” to distract attention from critics of the ballot question.

Leone attended a rally on the steps of the State House yesterday with other district attorneys, police, clergy and community organizers to call for the measure’s defeat.

“I’m not sure what the proponents of this question were smoking when they brought this to our state,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Brown. “We don’t need more weed.”

The question would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil rather than criminal offense, punishable by a $100 fine.

Opponents say such a change in law would essentially normalize the use of marijuana, while supporters say it would reduce a burden on the criminal-justice system by sparing those found with small amounts from facing a criminal record and jail.

Taylor’s group has filed complaints with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the attorney general’s office, and against the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and the public-relations firm hired to handle opposition to the question.

“This was an attempt to keep their organization as covert as they could for as long a possible,” Taylor said. The group also named Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz individually.

Taylor said state records show the district attorneys began raising money as early as July 18, but didn’t file a statement of organization with the state until Sept. 5.

An official from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance said the Coalition to Save Our Streets was originally formed as a political action committee that the district attorneys used to oppose Question 2. They changed their status to a ballot question committee on Sept. 5, after being informed that they needed to make the switch.

Taylor’s group has raised far greater sums than the district attorneys’ group, according to campaign finance reports.

The district attorneys raised just $27,670, virtually all of it from their own campaign accounts, while Taylor’s group has raised nearly $650,000.

The vast majority of the money raised by Taylor’s group came from outside Massachusetts, including a $400,000 donation from billionaire financier and liberal activist George Soros and $180,000 from the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

Taylor also faulted the district attorneys for using their state Web site to urge voters to oppose the question, and for misrepresenting the initiative.

In a statement on the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association Web site, the district attorneys say if the question is approved “any person may carry and use marijuana at any time.”

Taylor said if the question passed, possession of marijuana would still be illegal and anyone carrying or using marijuana would face a $100 fine.

Leone called Taylor’s accusations “a weak ploy to try to derail the public’s attention” about the negative fallout if the question failed. He said district attorneys are free to use money from their campaign accounts to support or oppose ballot questions.

At the rally, speakers said easing penalties would threaten recent positive trends in marijuana use among teens. They also said there’s a link between marijuana use and crime, car accidents and workplace safety.

“The same people dealing drugs now will be dealing drugs in the future, except they will have fewer obstacles,” said Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley. “Why would we put another monkey on society’s back?”

The district attorneys also said that existing law is fair.

Massachusetts law requires first-time drug offenders be placed on probation and that, at the successful conclusion of probation, “the case shall be dismissed and the record shall be sealed.”

If the question is approved, Massachusetts would become the 13th state to lift or ease criminal penalties on marijuana possession.

Source: Providence Journal

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