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Supporters of marijuana ballot question lodge complaint

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / September 18, 2008
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Backers of a promarijuana ballot initiative charged yesterday that 11 district attorneys violated campaign finance laws and twisted the truth about the question.

Whitney Taylor of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy said the district attorneys raised and spent money to oppose the question before forming their Coalition to Save Our Streets. Campaign finance laws require groups to form a committee before raising and spending money.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone brushed aside the group's criticism, calling it a ploy to distract attention from critics of the ballot question.

Leone attended a rally on the steps of the Statehouse with other district attorneys, police, clergy, and community organizers to call for the measure's defeat.

"I'm not sure what the proponents of this question were smoking when they brought this to our state," said the Rev. Jeffrey Brown.

The question would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense rather than criminal offense, and would make it punishable by a $100 fine. Opponents say such a change in law would essentially normalize use of marijuana, while supporters say it would reduce a burden on the criminal justice system by sparing those found with small amounts from facing a criminal record and jail.

Taylor's group has filed complaints with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the attorney general's office against the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and the public relations firm hired to handle opposition to the question. "This was an attempt to keep their organization as covert as they could for as long a possible," Taylor said.

Taylor said state records show the district attorneys began raising money as early as July 18, but didn't file a statement of organization with the state until Sept. 5.

Taylor also faulted the district attorneys for using their state website to urge voters to oppose the question, and for misrepresenting the initiative.

A statement on the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association website says that if the question is approved, "any person may carry and use marijuana at any time."

Taylor said that if the question passed, possession of marijuana would still be illegal, and that anyone carrying or using marijuana would face a $100 fine.

Leone called Taylor's accusations "a weak ploy to try to derail the public's attention" about the negative fallout if the question failed. He said district attorneys are free to use money from their campaign accounts to support or oppose ballot questions.

At the State House event, speakers said easing penalties would threaten recent positive trends in marijuana use among teenagers.

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