The Freedom to Say Stupid Things About Marijuana


District attorneys in Massachusetts are gearing up to oppose Question 2, an initiative on the November ballot that would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by an adult a citable offense akin to a traffic violation. They call their group the Coalition for Safe Streets, because God knows what would happen if all those vicious pot smokers were allowed to remain at large. But the Question 2 campaign, a.k.a. the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP), says the prosecutors broke the law in their eagerness to defend it:

The Campaign Finance Law prohibits a ballot question committee from accepting any contribution or making any expenditure until it files a statement of organization with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance….The Coalition for Safe Streets did not file for organization until Sept. 5, 2008, but they started accepting contributions in July 2008 and started spending funds with an expenditure of $21,000 to [the P.R. firm] O'Neill and Associates on Aug. 21, 2008.

CSMP's Whitney Taylor tells the Boston Herald, "This was an attempt to keep their organization as covert as they could for as long a possible." Which is probably true, and it would be nice if law enforcement officials followed the law and played by the rules that constrain their opponents. But I'm not a big fan of using campaign finance restrictions to beat up on people for exercising their freedom of speech, so I have trouble cheering CSMP's demand for a criminal investigation. Even more problematic is the committee's claim that the Massachusetts District Attorney Association violated a state law that says "no person shall publish or cause to be published in any letter, circular, advertisement, poster or in any other writing any false statement in relation to any question submitted to the voters, which statement is designed to affect the vote on said question." Again, it would be nice if both sides in a campaign told the truth, but it's hard to see how a law against misrepresenting a ballot initiative can be squared with the First Amendment (or with the Massachusetts Constitution's promise that "the right of free speech shall not be abridged").

These allegations should in any case be unnecessary, given how lame the arguments mustered by Question 2's opponents are:

"This is not your father's marijuana of 20 or 30 years ago," [Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe] said. He said marijuana now is far more potent, and contains substances designed to addict the user.

Such as? Note that O'Keefe is implicitly conceding that THC, marijuana's main active ingredient, is not addictive by itself. So it's a bit of a puzzle why he's so concerned about increased potency.

I noted the decriminalization initiative last fall. (Marijuana expert Lester Grinspoon, who had qualms about the initiative back then, is now on board as a supporter.) I addressed the not-your-father's-marijuana argument in a column last June.