Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, Question 2 (2008)

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The Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, also known as Massachusetts Ballot Question 2, was on the November 4, 2008 ballot in Massachusetts as an initiated state statute. It was approved.

Question 2 replaced previous criminal penalties with civil penalties on adults possessing an ounce or less of marijuana.[1] The initiative appeared , where it was approved.[2]

Election results

Massachusetts Question 2 (Sensible Marijuana Policy)
Approveda Yes 1,949,704 62.8%

Official results via: The Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth Elections Division

Text of measure

The official ballot summary for Question 2 was:[3]

This proposed law would replace the criminal penalties for possession for one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties, to be enforced by issuing citations, and would exclude information regarding this civil offense from the state’s criminal record information system. Offenders age 18 or older would be subject to forfeiture of the marijuana plus a civil penalty of $100. Offenders under the age of 18 would be subject to the same forfeiture and, if they complete a drug awareness program within one year of the offense, the same $100 penalty.

Offenders under age 18 and their parents or legal guardian would be notified of the offense and the option for the offender to complete a drug awareness program developed by the state Department of Youth Services. Such programs would include ten hours of community service and at least four hours of instruction or group discussion concerning the use and abuse of marijuana and other drugs and emphasizing early detection and prevention of substance abuse.

The penalty for offenders under 18 who fail to complete such a program within one year could be increased to as much as $1,000, unless the offender showed an inability to pay, an inability to participate in such a program, or the unavailability of such a program. Such an offender’s parents could also be held liable for the increased penalty. Failure by an offender under 17 to complete such a program could also be a basis for a delinquency proceeding.

The proposed law would define possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as including possession of one ounce or less of tetrahydrocannibinol (“THC”), or having metabolized products of marijuana of THC in one’s body.

Under the proposed law, possessing an ounce or less of marijuana could not be grounds for state or local government entities imposing any other penalty, sanction, or disqualification, such as denying student financial aid, public housing, public financial assistance including unemployment benefits, the right to operate a motor vehicle, or the opportunity to serve as a foster or adoptive parent. The proposed law would allow local ordinances or bylaws that prohibit the public use of marijuana, and would not affect existing laws, practices, or policies concerning operating a motor vehicle or taking other actions while under the influence of marijuana, unlawful possession of prescription forms of marijuana, or selling, manufacturing, or trafficking marijuana.

The money received from the new civil penalties would go to the city or town where the offense occurred.[4]

Specific Provisions

The measure enacted the following provisions:

  • 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, 10 hours community service, and a larger fine of $1,000. In addition, possible delinquency proceedings for those under 17 if the requirements are not completed.

The law represents a break with current Massachusetts law, where people charged with marijuana possession face criminal penalties of up to six months in jail and a $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 the vote on a procedural basis by a 10-1 vote, with the only vote for taking up the measure coming from the councilor that requested the vote. The reason it was rejected was due to it not being the responsibility of local government to take a position on ballot initiatives.


The leading proponent of the initiative was the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy. Whitney Taylor served as the committee's treasurer and chairwoman.[5][6]

Other supporters included:

  • National Association of Social Workers -- Massachusetts Chapter
  • Greater Boston Civil Rights Coalition
  • Criminal Justice Policy Coalition
  • 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

See List of Massachusetts Ballot Question 2 (2008) supporters

Arguments in favor

Supporting arguments advanced by the proponents included:[7]

  • Saving Massachusetts $130 million per year, according to a 2002 report by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron.
  • Instances of minor marijuana possession would no longer affect a person's ability to obtain a job, housing, and school loans.
  • Currently there are approximately 2.8 million CORI records on file for 6 million people.
  • 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."[8]

At the time of Question 2, there were 30 non-binding public policy questions calling for civil fines for possession of marijuana rather then criminal penalties that had 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 had ever failed in the state of Massachusetts.[9]

The Joint Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee of the Massachusetts General Court voted 6-1 in favor of a bill that was designed to make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana punishable by a civil fine.[10]


Billionaire George Soros made an initial contribution of $400,000 to support Question 2. The committee had also received $750,000 cash as well as about $320,000 worth of 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 November 1, 2008 the committee had raised approximately $1,250,000 to help pass the measure with $40,060.90 left in its coffers.[11]


The Coalition for Safe Streets was the leading opponent of Question 2. Jonathan W. Blodgett, the Essex County District Attorney served as the Coalition's treasurer and chairman.

Members and supporters of the opposition coalition included:

  • 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

See List of Massachusetts Ballot Question 2 (2008) opponents

Arguments against

Arguments that were made against Question 2 included:

  • 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 November 1, 2008 the ten committees representing 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 as well as a few other donors for a total of approx $60,000, After expenditures they have $0 to fight the initiative and $2,601.92 in outstanding liabilities.[12]

Newspaper editorial opinions


Newspapers that editorialized for a "yes" vote on Question 2 included:[13]

  • The Daily Free Press
  • The Bay State Banner
  • The Harvard Crimson
  • The Newton TAB
  • The Milford Daily News
  • The Springfield Republican
  • The Metrowest Daily News
  • The Daily News Tribune
  • The Brookline TAB
  • The Fall River Herald News
  • The Danvers Herald
  • MIT Tech


Newspapers that editorialized for a "no" vote on Question 2 included:[14]

  • Berkshire Eagle
  • Boston Globe
  • Boston Herald
  • Brockton Enterprise
  • Cape Cod Times
  • Eagle Tribune
  • Lynne Daily Item
  • Lowell Sun
  • New Bedford Standard Times
  • Patriot Ledger
  • Salem News:


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 attorneys 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.[15][16]

Also, Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone had stated that in the event the majority of voters in the State of Massachusetts were to pass the initiative, he would attempt to override the vote and defeat it in an appellate process.[17]


  • 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 alleged 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 alleged 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 said that if the question is approved, "any person may carry and use marijuana at any time,."
  • They also further asserted that the statement is false and misleading.

The ruling

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley rejected the complaint against the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. She further advised that the statements made by the district attorneys were a matter of their opinion, not of fact, because, 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. However it should be noted that smoking marijuana in public would qualify as possession under Question 2 legislation, which would still be illegal and subject to this initiative as well as its fines and confiscation absent a more strict local ordinance which could provide additional penalties. Coakley advised the proponents on Question 2 that they have the option of appealing her ruling in civil court. Coakley was a member of the Coalition of Safe Streets along with the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.

Coakley's ruling dismissed the "false statements" allegation but did not take up the question of the allegations that have been made by Question 2's supporters of campaign finance improprieties. Coakley was an endorser of the campaign committee that opposed Question 2.[18] .


A Suffolk University / WHDH Channel 7 poll found that 72% 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.[19]

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 to 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%.[20]

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.[21],[22][23]


This initiative became public law 30 days from the date it was presented to the Governor's Council. The Governor's council generally meets in late November or early December. The legislature also has the power to amend or pass a new law to prevent an initiative from becoming law and it has done so on other voter approved initiatives in the past. However, Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett said Wednesday that in the spirit of the ballot initiative he will drop all pending charges of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana and will no longer prosecute any new cases effective immediately.

See also

External links

Suggest a link


  1. The Initiative - Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy
  2. About the Initiative
  3. The Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth Elections Division website, accessed December 17, 2013
  4. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  5. Sensible Marijuana Policy
  6. Committee for sensible marijuana policy endorsements
  7. Boston Herald: "Marijuana measures head to voters, Hill," Jan. 27, 2008
  8. "Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding - 1972 Report"
  9. Marijuana Policy Project: "New poll shows 71% in favor of Massachusetts decriminalization initiative," Sep 22, 2008
  10. Herald News: "Marijuana fight nears," Feb 16, 2006
  11. Committee for sensible marijuana policy donations
  12. Coalition for safe streets finance reports
  13. Newspapers in support of question 2
  14. Newspapers in opposition to question 2
  15. "Supporters of marijuana ballot question lodge complaint," Sep 18, 2008
  16. Berkshire Eagle: "Marijuana proponents take on state attorneys," Sep 18, 2008
  17. The Boston Phoenix: "Blunt object," Sep 24, 2008
  18. Boston Herald: "Martha Coakley dismisses marijuana question complaint," Sep 30, 2008
  19. The Daily Cannabinoid: "Massachusetts Looks To Turn Over New Leaf On Pot," Aug 15, 2008
  20. "WBZ-TV Video Archive," Sep 17, 2008
  21. Boston Globe: "4 ballot petitions clear 1st obstacle," Nov. 24, 2007 (dead link)
  22. Boston Globe: "Proposal to decriminalize pot clears a hurdle," Nov, 21, 2007
  23. Massachusetts Law Updates: "Proposals to decriminalize marijuana," February 1, 2008 (dead link)