Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, Question 2 (2008)
|Voting on Marijuana|
|Not on ballot|
The Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, also known as Massachusetts Ballot Question 2, was an initiated state statute that replaces current criminal penalties with civil penalties on adults possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. The initiative appeared on the November 4, 2008 ballot in Massachusetts, where it was approved.
|Massachusetts Question 2 (Sensible Marijuana Policy)|
Official results via: The Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth Elections Division
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 due to it not being the responsibility of local government to take a position on ballot initiatives.
Other supporters included:
Arguments in favor of Question 2
Supporting arguments advanced by the proponents included:
- 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".
At this time there are 30 non-binding public policy questions calling for civil fines for possession of marijuana rather then criminal penalties that 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.
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.
Billionaire George Soros made an initial contribution of $400,000. The committee has also received $750,000 cash as well as about $320,000 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 November 1, 2008 the committee has raised approximately US$1,250,000 to help pass the measure with $40,060.90 remaining. 
The Coalition for Safe Streets was the leading opponent of Question 2. Jonathan W. Blodgett, the Essex County District Attorney serves as the Coalition's treasurer and chairman.
Members and supporters of the opposition coalition included:
Arguments against Question 2
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. 
Newspaper editorial opinions
In favor of Question 2
Newspapers that editorialized for a "yes" vote on Question 2 included:
- 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
Opposed to Question 2
Newspapers that editorialized for a "no" vote on Question 2 included: 
- 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.
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. 
- 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" complaint
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 are a matter of their opinion, 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. However it should be noted that smoking marijuana in public would qualify as possession 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 is 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 alleging campaign finance improprieties. Coakley is an endorser of the campaign committee that opposes Question 2. .
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.
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%. 
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., ,
This initiative will become public law 30 days from the date it is presented to the Governor's Council. The Governor's council generally meets in late November or early December. The legislature also may amend or pass a new law to prevent it's becoming law as it has done 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.
- Text of initiative
- Yes on Question 2, support website
- No on Question 2, opposition website
- Attorney General's Opinion 07-09
- Campaign finance registration statement of support committee
- Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy Radio spot
- Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy Television spots
- 2008 Massachusetts Voters Guide
- 2008 Massachusetts Official Election Results
- ↑ The Intiative - Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy
- ↑ About the Intiative
- ↑ Sensible Marijuana Policy
- ↑ Committee for sensible marijuana policy endorsements
- ↑ Boston Herald: "Marijuana measures head to voters, Hill," Jan. 27, 2008
- ↑ DrugLibrary.org: "Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding - 1972 Report"
- ↑ Marijuana Policy Project: "New poll shows 71% in favor of Massachusetts decriminalization initiative," Sep 22, 2008
- ↑ Herald News: "Marijuana fight nears," Feb 16, 2006
- ↑ Committee for sensible marijuana policy donations
- ↑ Coalition for safe streets finance reports
- ↑ Newspapers in support of question 2
- ↑ Newspapers in opposition to question 2
- ↑ Boston.com: "Supporters of marijuana ballot question lodge complaint," Sep 18, 2008
- ↑ Berkshire Eagle: "Marijuana proponents take on state attorneys," Sep 18, 2008
- ↑ The Boston Phoenix: "Blunt object," Sep 24, 2008
- ↑ Boston Herald: "Martha Coakley dismisses marijuana question complaint," Sep 30, 2008
- ↑ The Daily Cannabinoid: "Massachusetts Looks To Turn Over New Leaf On Pot," Aug 15, 2008
- ↑ wbztv.com: "WBZ-TV Video Archive," Sep 17, 2008
- ↑ Boston Globe: "4 ballot petitions clear 1st obstacle," Nov. 24, 2007
- ↑ Boston Globe: "Proposal to decriminalize pot clears a hurdle," Nov, 21, 2007
- ↑ Massachusetts Law Updates: "Proposals to decriminalize marijuana," February 1, 2008