Thursday, September 18
BOSTON — A group supporting more lenient marijuana laws is trying to turn another law involving campaign financing against their opponents — the state's district attorneys.

The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, which supports a ballot referendum that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, filed campaign finance complaints yesterday against organizations and individuals opposing their ballot question, including the Massachusetts District Attorney Association.

The complaints, filed with Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the Attorney General's office, allege that opponents of the marijuana ballot question committed 14 infractions of fundraising laws and another violation of campaign laws by allegedly publishing false statements.

"I find it quite egregious that people whose sole job is to uphold the law chose to break the law for political campaign means," said Whitney Taylor, the executive director of the pro-marijuana committee.

Taylor said that the Coalition for Safe Streets, a group opposed to Ballot Question 2 comprised of the state's district attorneys, broke the law by accepting contributions and spending money prior to declaring itself a formal ballot question committee.

Although the safe-streets group filed papers on Sept. 5 to become a committee, records show the coalition received over $27,000 between July 18 and Sept. 5. Ten of 12 contributions were from committees representing Massachusetts district attorneys, with each gift ranging from $2,200-$2,500.

On Aug. 21 the Safe Streets campaign gave $21,000 to O'Neill and Associates, a Boston public relations firm, which was named in the complaint.

Jason Tait, a spokesman for the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said that prior to spending or raising money a group must organize as a ballot question committee to comply with campaign finance laws. When a committee violates the law the likely consequences would be a payment by a committee member to the state or a letter to the public outlining the violations committed, Tait said.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said that the safe streets coalition engaged in no wrongdoing. He did not expect any judgment against the group. "The complaints are a weak ploy to derail the strong and determined opposition to (ballot) Question 2," Leone said following a press conference to publicize opposition to the marijuana ballot question.

The Coalition for Safe Streets said in a statement yesterday evening that it has been in close contact with the Campaign and Political Finance office and has followed its guidance throughout the campaign. If passed by voters in November, Question 2 would make possession of an ounce or less or marijuana a civil rather than criminal violation that would carry a fine, but no threat of jail. Supporters say the measure would help cities and towns focus on other, more serious offenses.

Yesterday afternoon, opponents of the measure, including district attorneys, religious leaders and police officers, gathered outside the Statehouse to repeat their opposition to the ballot question, warning that marijuana is a gateway drug to more serious addictions.

They said passing the measure will have troubling consequences for the state.