"Blunt Object" Follow-Up: Attorney General Coakley Responds To Question 2 Marijuana Reformers

In my recent Phoenix article, “Blunt Object,” regarding Commonwealth marijuana reform, I guessed that Attorney General Martha Coakley would decline to scold the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association (MDAA) for allegedly publishing lies on its web site about the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) and its Question 2 ballot initiative. I predicted this for two reasons: 1 – While I believe that the district attorneys who are lined up against marijuana decriminalization have absolutely bent the truth, I assumed that they were smart enough to avoid legally slandering their opponents; and 2 – Coakley is aligned with the district attorneys both professionally and on this issue in particular, and no self-respecting attorney general chooses ethical integrity over political camaraderie.  

Let’s have a quick recap of the CSMP complaints, one by one, with summaries of the positions that Attorney General Coakley’s office took on them:

1 – The CSMP claims the following MDAA statement to be false: “The proposed petition decriminalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana; consequently, any person may carry and use marijuana at any time, thus ‘normalizing’ its use.” It seems the MDAA covered its ass by throwing quotes around “normalize,” because Coakley’s Deputy Chief Peter Sacks, who wrote the response, alleges that the definition of “normalize” is thus a matter of opinion rather than a provable falsehood. Furthermore, since the proposal only authorizes (but does not require) municipalities to “explicitly forbid public use” of marijuana, it’s cool for the MDAA to scare people into thinking that if Question 2 passes everyone from bus drivers to grade school teachers will be habitually burning spliffs.

2 – The CSMP claims the following MDAA statement to be false: “Decriminalization will reverse a recently documented positive trend in youth marijuana use.” I’m siding with Coakley on this one; not only does the CSMP lack adequate evidence to counter this allegation, but I’m fairly certain that kids will have easier (or at least the same) access to weed if this measure passes. However, I do differ from the district attorneys in that I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, particularly if young people will no longer be subjected to Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reports that will eternally screw their attempts at finding college loans, employment, and housing assistance.   

3 – The CSMP claims the following MDAA statement to be false: “There is a direct link between marijuana use and criminal activity.” I suppose this is why I’d be a shitty lawyer, but I don’t understand how, according to the attorney general’s office (and the legal system, I suppose), “lack of evidence of truth does not amount to proof of falsehood.” If the MDAA is so sure of this direct link, and the district attorneys have access to a wealth of criminal statistics, then why shouldn’t they have to (and better yet, why can’t they) provide resounding evidence of this “direct link?”

4 – The CSMP claims the following MDAA statement to be false: “There is a direct link between marijuana use and motor vehicle crashes.” Marijuana reformers argued that this statement is irrelevant because there is no evidence that the passage of Question 2 would lead to increased marijuana use. Naturally, such self-sabotage led Coakley’s office to reject this claim on grounds that Massachusetts campaign law “does not prohibit the making of irrelevant statements in ballot question campaigns.”

5 – The CSMP claims the following MDAA statement to be false: “There is a direct link between marijuana use and workplace safety.” While I’m aware that the attorney general is able to legally quash the first four allegations on quasi-legitimate grounds, Coakley’s response to this particular grievance truly displays her inability to objectively evaluate CSMP allegations. Rather than stating the old “lack of evidence of truth does not amount to proof of falsehood,” Coakley’s office simply decided that it prefers the MDAA evidence more than it does studies offered by the CSMP. Furthermore, while the attorney general goes to great lengths in referencing the MDAA Web site to defend the district attorneys, marijuana reformers are strictly held to evidence cited in the CSMP complaint.

In conclusion, I recommend that the CSMP stop attempting to fight establishment bullies on their own turf. There’s no winning, especially when the honcho making decisions is admittedly on the other side (and refuses to acknowledge a conflict of interest). Marijuana smokers, reformers, and advocates should simply spread the message about what Question 2 would actually do if passed.  Those who aren’t capable of understanding the reality of the situation are either Massachusetts district attorneys, law enforcement officials who were conned into opposing this measure, or close-minded opponents of the truth who are voting no on Question 2 anyway.

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