Will the Real Drug Reform Candidate Please Stand?

The two big-party candidates for Senate do little to distinguish themselves on drug policy.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010
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For Massachusetts voters who are invested in the reform of existing drug policies—and the success of Question 2 on the November 2008 ballot would suggest that's a significant chunk of the electorate—next week's special Senate election presents a quandary.

In one corner, representing the Republicans, we have state Sen. Scott Brown, who in 2009 filed a bill that would undercut Question 2, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine. Within days after that law (which was approved by 65 percent of voters) took effect, Brown introduced his bill, which would increase the fine to $1,000 if the pot was found in a car, and would also result in a 90-day license suspension.

Brown's bill was protested by marijuana reform activists, who point out that one of Brown's stated intents—to keep people from driving stoned—was already addressed under existing OUI laws.

In the other corner, meanwhile, is Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, who joined the Massachusetts District Attorneys' Association in opposing Question 2. Then, when proponents of the ballot question filed a complaint with the AG's office alleging that the DAs' campaign violated election laws (for instance, by using public funds for the campaign) and relied on falsehoods (for example, claiming the law would mean "any person may carry and use marijuana at any time"), Coakley rejected the complaint.

After Question 2 was approved, Coakley drafted sample legislation for municipalities to use to draft their own local ordinances increasing the fine—a move that was allowed by law, but that flies in the face of the intent of voters on Question 2.

"Ms. Coakley opposed [Question 2] and has worked to undermine it since passage," Terry Franklin, a longtime proponent for drug-policy reform, told the Advocate last fall, as Coakley was heading into the Democratic primary in advance of next week's special election.

Coakley's campaign did not respond to a request for comment from the Advocate.


In the December Democratic primary, many voters who back the reform cause threw their support to U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, whose track record on the issue is strong: Capuano supported Question 2, and is co-sponsor of a federal marijuana reform bill filed last summer by Rep. Barney Frank that would decriminalize possession of 100 grams of pot or less.

"I think it's ridiculous we spend as much money and time as we do on minor infractions," Capuano told the Advocate shortly before the primary. He described the argument that marijuana is a "gateway" to harder drugs as "ridiculous," adding, "I also don't like the idea of ruining some young people's lives because they decided to smoke a joint."

Capuano is also a supporter of medical marijuana legislation—as, it should be noted, is Coakley, who last summer voiced her support of medical marijuana, "only with a prescription."

But Coakley's position on medical use of marijuana is not enough for voters like Franklin. With Coakley defeating Capuano (and fellow candidates Alan Khazei and Stephen Pagliuca) in the December primary, reformers find their options limited, at least when it comes to the two major parties.

"At least on this one issue, drug policy reform, the two parties are offering us two negatives," Franklin told the Advocate recently.

"In this month's election, I would have a hard time deciding which of the two evils [Coakley and Brown] was the lesser," added Franklin, who in an online discussion group for drug policy reformers described both candidates as "Prohibitionist fanatics" who "continue to undermine our hard-won Question 2."

That's why Franklin is urging voters to look in a third corner, the one occupied by Joe Kennedy ("not the nephew, the other Joe Kennedy," as Franklin describes him), a libertarian who's running as an Independent and a self-described "Tea Party Candidate."

Kennedy, who believes marijuana policy should be handled by the states, not the federal government, supports several reform bills, including Frank's medical marijuana and decriminalization bills.

"With so many people complaining about the two- party system, it is surprising that more don't vote for the alternatives offered by hard-working non- or third-party activists," Franklin said. "I'm going with the alternative."

Dick Evans, a Northampton attorney who's been active in drug reform efforts for decades, expressed frustration at how far behind the voters politicians lag on the issue. "What baffles me about the Senate race is that all the Dem and Rep candidates pretended not to have noticed that the [decriminalization] initiative passed, only a year ago, by a margin of 65 to 35. Is that not a sufficient group of voters to appeal to?" Evans told the Advocate.

"Sure, [marijuana's] always been the third rail of politics—touch it and you're dead—but, jeez, 65?

"What's going on, I fear, is simply that politicians are spineless on this issue, so they hide behind a cloak of cluelessness. And it is a real cloak," Evans continued. "For their entire adult lives, they have bought into prohibitionist doctrine, which blinds them to the most obvious truths, including the fact that, like it or not, [marijuana] is ineradicable.

"Any day now, a candidate will come along who will have not only the courage but the political instinct to reach out to those 65 percent of voters and earn their support," he predicted.

Comments (12)
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Great article, thanks Maureen. I'm glad to see there's a libertarian-minded candidate that I can vote for in this election, kudos to Mr. Kennedy for standing up to the tyranny of the 2-party system. I think what we've discoved on the cannabis issue is that the 2-party system enables the politicans to regularly flaunt the will of the voters. When they continue to shoot down any and all reforms to our failing drug policies, they show that they are responding to constituencies other than the voting, tax-paying public. Instead it would seem they're focused on serving the needs of monied special interests, like Big Pharma and the law enforcement industry. Big Pharma is the perennial leader in campaign contributions to Massachusetts politicians. And with the enormous size of our law enforcement and prison industries, bloated by the 18-year economic expansion, there is an enormous budget at stake when we talk about the drug laws. People receiving money and benefits from the current system are going to use every tool at their disposal to protect those budgets, and they're very effectively organized into powerful unions. We can see that these industries and organizations give big bucks legally to the politicans every year. We can see from the Sal DiMasi scandal that many groups also pay big bucks UNDER the table to the pols. Follow the money. It's not hard to see how the system works, and why cannabis has been kept illegal for decades, despite public support for common-sense reforms.
Posted by JH on 1.12.10 at 10:27
Someone please use common sense on this issue. We spend way too much on small offenses and the fact is that MJ is here to stay and there is no reason to put so many people in jail.
Posted by scared sh**less on 1.12.10 at 11:06
Coakley has said she supports medical marijuana. How much would you like to bet the only people she feels should get it are terminaly ill patients, or only the most severely dibilitsted people who did not respond to any other medications. The worst thing that could happen would be a marijuana bill passed by the legislation. Voter initiative is the way to go, or only about 100 people in the state will qualify, and they will likely find it impossible to get a doctor willing to prescribe it.
Posted by massmang on 1.12.10 at 12:42
Vote Republican if you dont want to be covered for annual mammograms,and tell the old people get a job to buy their own meds.WTF do these Republicans think,,they would rather save money than save a life?
Posted by D,PATRICK on 1.13.10 at 6:21
I too had noticed the prohibitionist theme in this election. Thanks for a great article.
Posted by Joe Hanlon on 1.13.10 at 10:07
You Guys in Mass a so screwed from what I've seen today in the polls. The Dems sold out health care so bad they lost their base and it appears that Brown is going to take it. You guys better get out there this weekend and educate people that Joe Kennedy is not a relative of Ted.
Posted by todd on 1.15.10 at 13:29
Just what we need....wacky liberals high 24/7.
Posted by Michael on 1.16.10 at 7:26
You talk about the Reps and what they will not cover while the Dems held back senior yearly increases in their SS checks then increased their Medicare payments causing the seniors to actually take a cut in their monthly benefits...
Posted by tricia on 1.18.10 at 11:08
Tuesday is a "People Power" day. The importance of people power and the ability of "the people" to keep the country on course was recognized by our founding fathers as being fundamental to our democracy. Thomas Jefferson, in a writing to John Adams, reflected that ""I like to see the people awake and alert. The good sense of the people will soon lead them back if they have erred in a moment of surprise." Mr. Jefferson further opined in another writing to John Dickinson, that "Our fellow citizens have been led hoodwinked from their principles by a most extraordinary combination of circumstances. But the band is removed, and they now see for themselves." Voting Brown is a vote to restore the checks and balances on the actions of government. No one party should have totalitarian power as the democratic party currently posses. Checks and balances is an essential ingredient of our democracy - on the congress which is . A Vote for Brown is also a vote to begin the road back from the hoodwinking that has led us to where we are today. Let Tuesday be the "Massachusetts Miracle" - Watch a powerful campaign ad "Massachusetts Miracle" that captures the essence and importance of this Senate Race >>> and more campaign ads and commentary at
Posted by Hephaistos on 1.18.10 at 11:33
Posted by CRIS ERICSON on 1.18.10 at 17:08
What's the matter, Chris? Media not giving you any free air time?
Posted by Bill D. on 1.19.10 at 22:45
To: Bill D.'s comment: Hi! Bill, no the larger media wants to ignore my existence. However, I do have a video online on CCTV, God Bless them! Burlington, Vermont government public access television. It is about BALD EAGLES and New Federal Regulations that went in to effect November 10, 2009 allowing you to "take" a Bald Eagle with a permit. The problem is that I have actually seen Bald Eagles three times at Stoughton Pond, part of the Springfield Lake Recreation Area, and it is run and controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and they allow hunting. Hunting season is every single day of the year in Vermont, even if it is just for coyote. There is a Quail season, a Deer season, a Bear season, etc. This video footage was taken 8 miles and 12 miles from my home in Chester, Vermont 05143. So, I am asking for a combined emergency federal amendment to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regulations and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rules. I hope you watch it! Sincerely, Cris Ericson
Posted by Cris Ericson on 1.22.10 at 12:12



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