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Monday, October 20, 2008

Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, also known as Massachusetts Ballot Question 2,


The Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, also known as Massachusetts Ballot Question 2, is an initiated state statute that would replace current criminal penalties with civil penalties on adults possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. The initiative will appear on the November 4, 2008 ballot in Massachusetts.

Question 2, if it passes, will:

  • Replace criminal penalties with a US$100 fine of which the proceeds go to the city where the offense takes place.
  • Eliminate collection of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reports for minor infractions.
  • Maintain current penalties for selling, growing, and trafficking marijuana, as well as the prohibition against driving under the influence of marijuana.
  • The law requires additional penalties for minors not in current law such as Parental notification, compulsory drug awareness program, and 10 hours community service. plus a larger US$1,000 fine and possible delinquency proceedings for those under 17 if they do not complete the requirements.

The law represents a break with current law in Massachusetts, where people charged with marijuana possession face criminal penalties of up to six months in jail and a US$500 fine, and a CORI report is filed.

On Tuesday, September 10th 2008 a city councilor in Worcester called for a vote on a measure to express the opposition by the city of Worcester to the initiative. The city council rejected and voted down the measure by a 10-1 vote, with the only vote for the measure coming from the counselor that requested the vote.


The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy is the leading proponent of the initiative. Whitney Taylor serves as the committee's treasurer and chairwoman.[1][2]


  • American Civil Liberties Union — National
  • American Civil Liberties Union — Massachusetts chapter
  • National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
  • Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, Inc.
  • Union of Minority Neighborhoods
  • The Boston Worker’s Alliance
  • Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
  • Marijuana policy project


  • Ronald Ansin, ACLU, philanthropist
  • Charles H. Baron, Esq., Boston College School of Law
  • Jack Cole, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
  • Michael D. Cutler, Esq.
  • Richard Elliott Doblin, PhD, MAPS
  • Sergeant Howard Donohue, a 33-year veteran of the Boston Police Department
  • Lester Grinspoon, M.D., associate professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
  • John H. Halpern, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
  • Massachusetts state Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Second Middlesex), chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs and Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight
  • Wendy Kaminer, Esq., ACLU, author, journalist
  • Woody Kaplan, ACLU, philanthropist
  • Thomas R. Kiley, Esq., Cosgrove, Eisenberg & Kiley
  • Karen Klein, Brandeis University, Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform
  • Lanny Kutakoff, Partakers, Inc.
  • Dr. Robert Meenan, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health
  • Lieutenant Thomas Nolan, a 30-year veteran of the Boston Police Department who now teaches criminology at Boston University
  • Massachusetts state Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Fifteenth Norfolk), chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture
  • Carl Valvo, Esq., Cosgrove, Eisenberg & Kiley
  • Ernest “Tony” Windsor, Esq., Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
  • George Soros, Hedge Fund Manager
  • Steven Epstein, Georgetown Lawyer and Founder of Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition
  • Massachusetts State Rep. Jim O’Day (D-fourteenth Worcester)[3]
  • Charles R. Nesson, professor at Harvard Law School
  • Jeffrey A. Miron, professor of economics, Harvard

Newspaper Editorial endorsements

  • The Daily Free Press
  • The Bay State Banner
  • The Harvard Crimson
  • The Newton TAB

A Suffolk University / WHDH Channel 7 poll has shown that 72 percent of Greater Boston residents are in favor of replacing criminal penalties with civil fines for carrying an ounce or less of marijuana. The poll was conducted with 400 residents between July 31 and August 3, 2008.[4]

A FastTrack poll by WBZ TV /Survey USA on September 17th showed that 69% of all Massachusetts voters would favor either decriminalization or legalization. It was broken down to show that 30% want it remain a crime, 31% want it changed to a civil fine, and 38% would like it to be legalized completely. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5%. [5]

Arguments in favor

Supporting arguments advanced by the proponents include[6]:

  • It would save Massachusetts $130 million per year, according to a 2002 report by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron.
  • Instances of minor marijuana possession would no longer affect if people can obtain jobs, housing, and school loans.
  • Currently there are about 2.8 million CORI records on file for a population of 6 million.
  • Small convictions have been shown to have little or no impact on drug use.

The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (also known as the Shafer Commission) was created by Public Law 91-513 in 1972 to study marijuana abuse in the United States. It published its findings in a report called Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding and recommended that the president should decriminalize possession of marijuana in amounts that constituted "simple possession".[7]

So far 30 non-binding public policy questions calling for civil fines for possession of marijuana rather then criminal penalties have passed in legislative districts throughout Massachusetts since 2000. These questions were passed with an average of 62% of the vote in favor. No Public policy question related to replacing criminal penalties with civil fines has ever failed in the state of Massachusetts. [8]

The Joint Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee of the Massachusetts General Court voted 6-1 in favor of a bill that would have made possession of less than an ounce of marijuana punishable by a civil fine.[9]


Of all the money raised for the committee, billionaire George Soros has made the largest contribution of $400,000.[10] The committee has also received $200,000 cash as well as about $245,000 in donated time and services from the marijuana policy project, an organization created to reform marijuana laws in the United States. According to campaign finance reports, as of October 1, 2008 the committee has raised approximately US$688,000 to help pass the measure with $154,302.68 remaining. [11]


The Coalition for Safe Streets, a committee organized to oppose Question 2, launched a statewide campaign Sept. 5 to defeat the measure. Jonathan W. Blodgett, the Essex County District Attorney serves as the Coalition's treasurer and chairman.


  • Boston TenPoint Coalition
  • Community Voices
  • Mass. Association of Superintendents
  • Mass. Sheriffs' Association
  • Mass. Chiefs of Police Association
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving
  • First Response Ministry
  • Bird Street Community Center
  • Ella J. Baker House
  • Jubilee House
  • Chelsea Collaborative
  • The Gavin House
  • Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion
  • Community Action Programs Inter-City, Inc.
  • Dorchester Youth Collaborative
  • Sociedad Latina


  • Deval Patrick, Mass Governor
  • Thomas Menino, Mayor of Boston
  • David Wright, Black Ministerial Alliance
  • William Breault, chairman of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety
  • Michael O'Keefe, the president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association
  • Will N. Brownsberger, Massachusetts State Representative (D-24th Middlesex)
  • Joseph A. Curtatone, Mayor of Somerville
  • Anthony Holloway, Police Chief of Somerville
  • Gerry Leone, Middlesex District Attorney

Arguments Against

Arguments against the measure include:

  • It gives the wrong message to kids and may cause more to use drugs
  • Makes it easier for drug dealers to sell marijuana without being arrested


According to Campaign Finance reports, as of October 1, 2008 ten committees representing ten of the district attorneys in Massachusetts have contributed approximately $2,275 each to the Coalition along with a donation of $2,500 from the Worcester County Deputy Sheriffs Association for a grand total of $27,670,46, After expenditures they have $5,920.46 remaining to fight the measure. Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett is the only district attorney who has not contributed to the coalition. [12][13]


On September 17, 2008, the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy filed complaints with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the Attorney General's office against the Massachusetts District Attorney Association, the 11 state district attornies and O'Neill and Associates, a Boston public relations firm. Violations of the campaign finance law could result in up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine.[14][15]

Also, Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone has stated that in the event the majority of voters in the State of Massachusetts were to pass the initiative, he will attempt to override the vote and defeat it in an appellate process. [16]

Alleged Complaints

  • Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to solicit, receive, or spend funds to support or oppose a ballot initiative without first forming a political committee. CSMP alleges that the district attorneys solicited, received, and spent donations before they were legally allowed to, attempting to conceal their campaign activity for as long as they could.
  • CSMP further alleges that the district attorneys used public funds to post and house a statement urging voters to reject the decriminalization initiative on its Web site, a violation of Massachusetts election law, which prohibits public officials from using public resources to advocate for or against a ballot initiative. The statement on the state run Massachusetts District Attorneys Association website says that if the question is approved, "any person may carry and use marijuana at any time,".
  • They also further assert that the statement is false and misleading.

Ruling on False Information Allegations

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley who herself is a member of the Coalition of Safe Streets along with the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, has rejected the complaint against the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. She further advised that the district attorneys statements are only a matter of opinion and not of fact, as although the bill maintains the act of the actual possession to be illegal it does not explicitly state public use is illegal and only "allows" towns the option to add further prohibitions on public use. She further Advised the Committee for Sensible Marijuana policy that they may appeal the ruling in civil court.[17] This only Dismisses the complaint in regards to the false statements but does not apply to the allegations made regarding Campaign Finance improprieties. That issue has not yet been decided.

Petition drive to qualify

The support group collected over 105,000 to meet the initial requirement of 66,593 valid signatures. Since Massachusetts is an indirect initiative state, this meant that the Massachusetts State Legislature had to take up the proposed measure. Since the legislature declined to act on it by early May, the supporter then had until June 18, 2008 to collect another 11,099 signatures to ensure that the initiative is placed on the November 2008 statewide ballot, a goal at which they succeeded at.[18], [19],[20]

See also

External Links


  1. Sensible Marijuana Policy
  2. Committee for sensible marijuana policy endorsements
  3. Worcester Magazine - Up in Smoke
  4. The Daily Cannabinoid: "Massachusetts Looks To Turn Over New Leaf On Pot," Aug 15, 2008
  5. "WBZ-TV Video Archive," Sep 17, 2008
  6. Boston Herald: "Marijuana measures head to voters, Hill," Jan. 27, 2008
  7. "Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding - 1972 Report"
  8. Marijuana Policy Project: "New poll shows 71% in favor of Massachusetts decriminalization initiative," Sep 22, 2008
  9. Herald News: "Marijuana fight nears," Feb 16, 2006
  10. Baltimore Sun: "Soros behind effort in Mass. to decriminalize marijuana," Sep 7, 2008
  11. Committee for sensible marijuana policy donations
  12. Coalition for safe streets finance reports
  13. Cape Cod Today: "District attorney opposes decriminalization of marijuana," Sep 8, 2008
  14. "Supporters of marijuana ballot question lodge complaint," Sep 18, 2008
  15. Berkshire Eagle: "Marijuana proponents take on state attorneys," Sep 18, 2008
  16. The Boston Phoenix: "Blunt object," Sep 24, 2008
  17. Boston Herald: "Martha Coakley dismisses marijuana question complaint," Sep 30, 2008
  18. Boston Globe: "4 ballot petitions clear 1st obstacle," Nov. 24, 2007
  19. Boston Globe: "Proposal to decriminalize pot clears a hurdle," Nov, 21, 2007
  20. Massachusetts Law Updates: "Proposals to decriminalize marijuana," February 1, 2008


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