Massachusetts -- Like many Americans who supported Barack Obama, I want to believe all of the post-election talk about his landslide victory being a mandate for change, a repudiation of the policies not only of George W. Bush, but of policies going back decades. I want to believe that Obama's electrifying election-night speech was, indeed, the prologue to a new beginning for America.
Perhaps most of all, I want to believe that Obama's victory is a victory for intellectual honesty, an unequivocal rejection of longstanding mythology crafted by ideologues—government is a drag on the free market, for example, or marginal modifications to a progressive tax system is Marxist—in favor of political discourse enriched by critical thinking and an openness to nuance.
Looking closer to home, though there wasn't much doubt that Massachusetts electors would end up in Obama's column, I take hope from the Election Day results, particularly the overwhelming passage of a ballot initiative that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. I want to believe that the victory of Question 2 reflects at the local level the desire for sweeping change expressed nationally.
Did Massachusetts voters, by supporting Question 2, suddenly see the harm done by America's so-called War on Drugs? Did they suddenly grasp how unfair and wasteful it is to treat people arrested for minor possession of marijuana—6,902 people in 2006, representing more than 38 percent of all drug arrests in Massachusetts that year—as felons, tainted forever by a criminal record or, in some cases, incarcerated in a prison system that grows bigger and more costly while policy makers cut nearly all other areas of domestic spending?
I don't think so. Barney Frank, the U.S. Congressman from Newton who introduced a bill earlier this year that would decriminalize possession of marijuana in amounts of 3.5 ounces or less anywhere in the United States, was dead-on last week when he said, "This is a case of the people being ahead of the politicians."
Frank's remark may be colored by the optimism of the moment, an expression of faith in the ultimate wisdom of voters by a leading Democrat whose team just won big. But there is also an implicit warning in his comment, one that voters should keep in mind over the next few weeks. If the voters were ahead of the politicians on Question 2, they nonetheless will need many of the very politicians who opposed the measure to see it safely enacted into law. Already, state officials have begun wringing their hands, warning that implementing the new law will be very difficult. The legislature has 30 days from the election to enact it, modify it or reject it.
The politicians who opposed the initiative—a group that included Gov. Deval Patrick, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, Sen. John F. Kerry, Boston Mayor Tom Menino and district attorneys throughout the state—used dubious tactics in an effort to defeat it, the most egregious of which involved a claim that replacing criminal penalties with a new system of civil penalties would increase marjiuana use. That no evidence to support such a claim can be found in studies of the 12 other states that have similar laws serves as a clear example of the rampant intellectual dishonesty that typifies the old politics that Obama and his followers hope to change.
In the past, I'd be inclined to suspect the politicians who opposed Question 2 of putting personal political ambitions ahead of their public responsibility to follow the will of the people; does Patrick, for example, really believe smoking pot is a crime, or is he simply afraid to be cast as pro-drug should he run eventually for national office? In the spirit of a new day, I'll stop short of impugning their motives while offering this: Question 2 is a test not only of the politicians but of the voters, whose will can only be ignored if we allow it.
Note: The overwhelming passage of Question 2 is not the end of the story.
Source: Valley Advocate (Easthampton, MA)
Author: Tom Vannah
Published: Thursday, November 13, 2008
Copyright: 2008 New Mass Media
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