Messing With Ballot Measure - Massachusetts

By Panthers007 · Sep 18, 2008 · ·
  1. Panthers007
    Supporters of marijuana ballot question lodge complaint
    September 18, 2008

    Backers of a promarijuana ballot initiative charged yesterday that 11 district attorneys violated campaign finance laws and twisted the truth about the question.

    Whitney Taylor of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy said the district attorneys 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 Gerard T. 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 Statehouse 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.

    The question would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense rather than criminal offense, and would make it punishable by a $100 fine. Opponents say such a change in law would essentially normalize 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 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.

    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.

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

    A statement on the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association website says that if the question is approved, "any person may carry and use marijuana at any time."

    Taylor said that if the question passed, possession of marijuana would still be illegal, and that 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 State House event, speakers said easing penalties would threaten recent positive trends in marijuana use among teenagers.

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  1. chillinwill
    I guess this goes here but if not, would the mods please move it to where it belongs

    The election of 2008 holds promise of a sea change in Massachusetts politics with a close vote on Question 1 and a powerfully strong vote on Question 2.

    My research since 1974 into the natural history of cannabis, the scientific name for marijuana, has revealed myriad uses besides its relatively benign effects on perception.

    Its seeds are nutritious. The fibers of its outer stalk are among the strongest found in nature. Early in the 20th century, scientists found its cellulose-rich inner stalk ideal for making paper and thousands of other products that today come from coal, natural gas, petroleum and trees.

    The primary ingredient of most medicines from the mid-18th century to the early 20th, it was effectively outlawed with the passage of the federal Marijuana Tax Act after a racist campaign in which it was given the exotic name "marijuana." By 1930s standards, the $100-per-ounce tax, an amount that may now be appropriate, was ridiculously confiscatory. In order to aid the war effort during World War II, the federal government suspended the tax so that farmers would grow it again. The government even produced a short film titled, "Hemp for Victory," to encourage its cultivation.

    Almost every week now brings news from scientists of potentially beneficial uses of chemicals it produces in treating many medical conditions. The news also arrives of studies that reach the same conclusion the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission reached in 1894: Cannabis should be regulated and taxed, but not prohibited.

    Earlier this month, the Beckley Foundation published such a report, concluding the potential health risks associated with cannabis including the more potent strains now available, are less than those associated with alcohol and do not justify the criminalization of the plant or its users.

    The truth about cannabis and my study of law lead me to conclude that the state and federal constitutions do not permit prohibition. They compel regulation and taxation of marijuana as we do tobacco, beer, wine, and hard cider (none of which may be provided to children) as the only policy consistent with securing to the individual the blessings of liberty promised by these great charters.

    Question 2 moves state policy toward constitutionality by replacing the criminal penalties for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana — which opponents say are infrequently imposed to the maximum anyway — with forfeiture of the marijuana and a civil penalty of $100.

    It encourages enforcement by providing that fines are collected and kept by the municipality in which the offender is captured. It ends use and possession of marijuana as grounds for any other penalty, sanction, or disqualification for those merely captured in possession, which is a tiny percentage of the more than 10 percent of residents over 18 in Massachusetts who consume each month and consider their conduct normal.

    Most importantly, it revokes the power, currently exercised arbitrarily, of the police to hold for bail persons possessing an ounce or less of marijuana without evidence of possessing it for distribution.

    As for the children it virtually codifies the current practice of diversion, which Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett claims his office follows. It ensures parental notice and requires offenders under 18 to perform community service and take a course on substance abuse.

    As the parent of three, I have great empathy for the parents who call me when their child is captured. My experience and my wife's experience as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor who "treats" children diverted to her by the DA's office, confirms that few of these children are on the road to ruin. For those under 17, who may be on that road, Question 2 leaves intact the provisions of M.G.L. c. 119, s. 21-51F (Protection and Care of Children). Under this law, the court orders children who persistently refuse to obey to receive services needed to become responsible citizens.

    Finally, Question 2 leaves intact existing law concerning operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

    Ultimately, when it comes to the children, we must teach them that using marijuana or alcoholic beverages, like driving a car, voting or running for political office, are activities they must wait to engage in until reaching the appropriate age. We must also teach them to use alcoholic beverages and marijuana in moderation and not at work, or before or while operating a motor vehicle. We must also exercise moderation when punishing them for not waiting.

    Please vote yes on Question 2 and bring our law into conformity with practice, as described by opponents, and with the law in 11 other states, none of which have a higher percentage of users than Massachusetts.


    Criminal defense attorney Steve Epstein resides in Georgetown and is a founder of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.

    By Steve Epstein
    Published: October 28, 2008 05:00 am
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