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Deception, Dirty Dealing, and Duplicity: The Low Down Campaign to Keep Marijuana Illegal in Massachusetts

There are some things that opponents of the marijuana regulation initiative in Massachusetts don’t want to talk about. They’re not interested in addressing how the commercial alcohol industry bankrolls their cause and fills the campaign piggy banks of elected officials. Nor will prohibitionists answer for apparent election and ethics law violations being committed by influential Question 4 (marijuana legalization) opponents, or the lies that have been used to artificially buttress their position.


At the forefront of this deceit and dirty dealing is the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, a bipartisan coalition including such honchos as Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Speaker of the House Robert Deleo. Despite all of the deceptions and shortcomings, the anti- effort has been given a pass by most commercial news outlets. As the vote for legalization approaches, however, it is important to acknowledge the devil in some oppositional details.  

The Money

While attempting to scare people about the harm of a commercial marijuana industry, the Safe and Healthy campaign has collected a sizable war chest that is partially funded by the alcohol industry, according to campaign finance reports. Beer Distributors of Massachusetts contributed at least $25,000, while Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of Mass one-upped even them with a $50,000 gift.

Then there are the individual beneficiaries. Republican State Rep. Hannah Kane of Shrewsbury, for example, who has campaigned at events against Question 4, has accepted at least $2,500 in contributions from individuals at Austin Liquors, a chain with four stores in her area.

The same benefactors have been contributing to war chests for more than a decade, including that of Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, whose campaign has received at least $9,000 from individuals at Austin Liquors, not to mention more than $11,000 from executives at Horizon Beverage Group, a regional wholesaler of beers, wines, and spirits.

The list of these relationships includes Gov. Baker, who has taken more than double that amount from Horizon, as well as other noted Question 4 adversaries like State Rep. Todd Smola, Speaker Deleo, and State senators Richard Ross and Vinny deMacedo.

Also funding the anti- side is SAM Action, a Virginia-based propaganda outfit founded by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, George W. Bush insider and speechwriter David Frum, and proven prohibitionist liar Kevin Sabet. They pitched in $25,000, while the establishment Massachusetts Medical Society/New England Journal of Medicine kicked in $10,000. It should be acknowledged that said medical society’s affiliate, Physician Health Services, is still run by Dr. Steven Adelman, who once blamed the Boston Marathon bombing on marijuana withdrawal.

Then there’s the old-fashioned influence-buying. The Cronin Group of Boston also gave $25,000 to Safe and Healthy—in the beginning of July, right before the company’s controversial $100 million-plus development won approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). The BRA (since re-branded as the Boston Planning and Development Agency) is known to be heavily influenced by City Hall, and to not fairly represent Boston residents.

The Cronin Group's proposed Seaport tower, for example miraculously won BRA approval despite the fact that in may be in violation of state environmental laws. Anyone who finds that interesting may also want to check out the relationship between  the Walsh administration and the Markley Group, which gave Safe and Healthy nearly a quarter of its haul, writing a $100,000 check.

The Crimes

“The Needham Department of Health has been re-tweeting messages from the opposition campaign to Question 4, using their influence as a public municipal department to influence voters," says Eric Casey of 4Front Ventures, a cannabis investment firm. "Using a government social media account to influence voters to vote a certain way on ballot initiatives is a clear violation of state ethics law.”

Casey is correct. But when confronted about these actions, health workers from Needham claimed that they are only “educating” the public. But that's an odd stance to take, given that the American Public Health Association recently came out in support of regulating marijuana, calling for “a public health approach to regulating and controlling commercially legalized marijuana and urges that regulation of legalized marijuana be viewed as a public health priority.”

There have been many other instances of public officials using their influence and taxpayer resources to oppose a ballot initiative that was put in place by the people of Massachusetts. As previously reported, the  Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed a state ethics complaint regarding the actions of Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael, who appeared at an anti-Question 4 event in full police uniform driving his marked police car. Carmichael claimed his appearance was not a violation as it was purely “educational,” and not political.

And he showed off some marijuana edibles. Asked about the legality of the possessing and transporting edibles from Colorado, Carmichael has said he is simply using a “law enforcement display.” But were they legally imported? Furthermore, who purchased them? And who covered the cost of the purchases? Carmichael has thus far not responded to questions about the items beyond a few initial twitter responses, including, “you might want to get your facts straight before publishing something that is untrue. I’ll be in touch”—a tweet he soon deleted.

We’ve since learned from three attendees that at one of his “educational” campaign stops, this one before the Massachusetts Municipal Association which represents town government interests, Carmichael publicly announced that, because the odor of marijuana was noticeable, he had to explain to someone at the airport—presumably to a TSA employee—that he was a law enforcement officer when traveling home with the goods from Colorado.

In another edible offense, although of a different nature, Dr. Kevin Sabet recently showed up at a PBS-hosted forum to speak against Question 4, and in the process lied to the audience about the psychoactive nature of candies in his possession. Predictably, the local Fox affiliate botched the story, making it appear that stoners had stolen the drugs to get high and not to expose hypocrisy and possible criminal activity.

The Lies

Let's start with the voter guide. Sam Tracy of 4Front Advisors has created a Change.org petition declaring that" “Every election year, the Massachusetts state government sends out an official Voter Guide. This is supposed to be a balanced, non-biased document to help voters understand the important issues facing our state. But Governor Charlie Baker, tasked with drafting the “statement of fiscal consequences” for each ballot question, wrote a terribly biased statement about the economic impact of Question 4, which would legalize and regulate marijuana for adults over 21. This is wrong and must be corrected.”

Baker's statement misleads, warning voters that “Tax revenues and fees that would be generated from legal sales may fall short of even covering the full public and social costs.” However, the report this is quoted from was authored by state Sen. Jason Lewis, one of the main opponents of Question 4. This low-quality report was actually described by Lewis’ own chief of staff as an “amateur economic effort” with “back-of-the-envelope-type calculations,” yet here it is being presented to voters.

 “Never mind that the information contradicts the reality in states like Colorado, where revenues are paying not just for marijuana regulation, but for school construction, drug abuse prevention programs, and more,” Tracy pointed out.

On a recent “Ask the Governor” segment on WGBH's Boston Public Radio, after having acknowledged his commercial alcohol industry ties and contributions, Baker was asked if he thinks alcohol is safer than cannabis. Predictably, the governor refused to answer, never mentioning alcohol once in his response, and instead expounding on his fears of a commercial cannabis market. No surprise there, as there are just some things that prohibitionists in Mass aren’t willing to talk about.

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