These days, Howie Carr is not the only smug bully stereotyping pot smokers as dangerously naive dingbats. With Election Day’s Question 2 ballot initiative threatening to reduce the penalty for less than one ounce of weed to a mere civil slap and $100 fine, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe is leading a coalition of the Commonwealth’s heaviest hitters — including the other 10 Massachusetts district attorneys, Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Tom Menino, and Attorney General Martha Coakley — to stand united against marijuana reform. But, as the state’s fiercest civic power brokers are quickly finding out, the war over Question 2 is not your typical suits vs. stoners scrum.
Firstly, operatives with the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) are hardly Spicoli-styled dimwits. Together, they gathered signatures from more than 125,000 constituents representing all but one Massachusetts municipality (Mount Washington in the Berkshires) to actually get Question 2 on the November ballot. They’ve also raised nearly $650,000 since 2007, which is a major bummer for Question 2 opponents, who have stashed fewer than $28,000, and who resent CSMP’s feasting on out-of-state contributions, such as the $400,000 the committee received from billionaire Wall Street–tycoon-turned-liberal-activist George Soros.
The CSMP accuses O’Keefe’s organization (dubbed the Coalition for Safe Streets) of more than just openly opposing statistical evidence, scientific research, and the will of Massachusetts residents. In a press conference held outside the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse this past Thursday morning, CSMP Campaign Manager Whitney Taylor claimed the district attorneys committed “at least 15 violations of Massachusetts campaign-finance and election laws.” Among the alleged infractions: the Coalition for Safe Streets began accepting contributions and spending funds before it registered with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF), and the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association (MDAA) published lies about the CSMP initiative on its Web site.
“Their opposition statement against Question 2 promoted false statements about what the question would do if passed,” says Taylor, who stressed that CSMP is not a libertarian group looking to get high, but is instead seeking to minimize consequences for small-time offenders who are often denied access to student loans, housing, and employment due to Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reports that are filed upon arrest. Currently, even first-time pot offenders are placed on probation.
Although the OCPF press liaison will neither confirm nor deny that it received the CSMP complaint, and therefore cannot comment on whether O’Keefe’s coalition is indeed in violation, evidence gleaned from public documents sure makes it look that way. The Coalition for Safe Streets accepted its first contribution — $2,272.73 from a committee formed by Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett — on July 18, 2008; its first expenditure — $21,000 to the Boston-based consulting firm O’Neill and Associates — came on August 21, 2008. OCPF records also confirm that the coalition neglected to file a statement of organization until September 5, 2008. Prior to that date, the coalition did exist as a Political Action Committee (PAC), but not as a designated ballot-question committee, which is required for this sort of effort.
A statement released by the coalition counters: “The actions of the District Attorneys and the Coalition for Safe Streets have been vetted and approved by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance. This is a desperate attempt by out-of-state pro-drug interests to intimidate those who oppose their efforts to eliminate drug laws in Massachusetts.”
As for Taylor’s accusation that the MDAA posted misleading information regarding Question 2 on its Web site, well, that depends on whom you ask. Some argue that statements such as “There is a direct link between marijuana use and criminal activity” are unfounded; the district attorneys, on the other hand, believe that finding dime bags on murderers proves direct links (a coalition press release claims that “Question 2 constitutes an endorsement of substance abuse and dangerous criminal activity” and “benefits drug dealers and dangerous criminals.”) Furthermore, the site mischaracterizes the reform group’s intentions, stating that, under CSMP’s proposal, “any person may carry and use marijuana at any time”; in reality, the initiative calls for minors who get busted with less than one ounce to receive drug treatment and have their parents notified, while adults are to pay the $100 fine and forfeit their weed. Penalties for smoking in public and driving under the influence would remain unchanged under the binding resolution.
Attorney General Coakley’s office acknowledged that it received the CSMP complaint, which specifically accuses the MDAA of violating Massachusetts General Law by publishing false statements designed to affect a ballot question. Spokeswoman Jill Butterworth said Coakley was not prepared to comment on the pending investigation, but noted that the attorney general would consider her potential conflict of interest, as well as the fact that the election is fast coming up. In reviewing the case, Coakley should consider that the MDAA’s published statement against Question 2 heavily cites an Office of National Drug Control Policy report that questionably claims, among other things, that marijuana “is a dangerous drug that has no recognized medical value.”