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.”
Despite its relatively empty war chest, the Coalition for Safe Streets recently launched a sophisticated spin battle to rally voters against marijuana decriminalization. Nearly every legal, legislative, and spiritual authority has joined the chorus, never mind a 7News/Suffolk University survey conducted this past July and August that found 72 percent of registered voters favor the proposal. With O’Keefe guiding the fold, this past Thursday the coalition held a press conference on the State House steps, where anti-pot reformers, such as Boston Ten Point Coalition Executive Director Reverend Jeffrey Brown and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley delivered tough speeches stuffed with hysterical rhetoric. Calling Question 2 a radical and extreme measure that fosters “violent business,” O’Keefe right away linked marijuana to addiction, death, and homelessness.
Since relevant facts condemning marijuana use are inconvenient to find, coalition members relied on token stories and anti-drug generalities. District Attorney Conley reeled one off about a pot dealer whose jonesing customers strapped him to a chair and incinerated his house when he couldn’t fix them up; Dorchester Youth Collaborative executive director Emmett Folgert attacked so-called gangsta rappers.
The coalition had a strong showing; in addition to clergy stars, such as Brown and Reverend William Dickerson, O’Keefe dressed his cause with police chiefs from Revere, Chelsea, Winthrop, and Needham, as well as with state troopers, park rangers, Salvation Army soldiers, and a guy who looks like Karl Rove. They’re also getting organized; following its press conference, the coalition launched noquestion2.org — a much more comprehensive condemnation of marijuana decriminalization than the MDAA site.
Aside from CSMP’s financial edge and the coalition’s possible campaign-finance infringements (that will almost definitely amount to nothing), the battle over Question 2 is really little more than a democratic street fight. In the end, the will of Commonwealth residents shall prevail; unless, of course, the majority of them vote yes on Question 2. In that case, according to Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone, “We will attempt to defeat it in an appellate process.”
Chris Faraone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.