One is a retired judge who says he has never smoked marijuana in his life.
Another is an economist who says he last touched the drug decades ago, in
college, and didn't like it. Yet another is a lawyer who acknowledges that
he ''absolutely'' smokes pot. James W. Dolan, Jeffrey Miron, and Michael
Cutler are the white-collar public face of the Drug Policy Forum of
Massachusetts, a newly formed group that helped put a nonbinding initiative
to decriminalize marijuana on the ballot in 19 legislative districts across
the state.

The initiative, which proposed making possession of a small amount of
marijuana a civil offense - punishable by a $100 fine similar to a parking
ticket - passed everywhere it appeared on the ballot, including nine
districts in Greater Boston. Bolstered by a Boston University study that
calculated the state could save $24 million if the initiative were enacted,
the measure passed with roughly 70 percent approval of voters in four
districts that include parts of Brookline, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale.

''This vote shows that these attitudes are mainstream,'' said Cutler,
interim director of the Drug Policy Forum, which commissioned the BU study.

Now the group hopes to work like a think tank, not a grass-roots coalition.
Its members strive for a board of directors filled with professors, not
potheads. While their friends who put on the annual Freedom Rally focus on
the right to smoke, the Drug Policy Forum champions fiscal savings.

Antidrug activists say they've noticed that the marijuana movement has
gotten a makeover and has seen widespread success among mainstream voters,
but they warn the public should still be wary.

''It's a very smart political move on the part of marijuana lobbyists,''
said Maria Cheevers, executive director of the Boston Coalition Against
Drugs and Violence. ''The group that is coming at this from a professional
perspective, arguing that this is saving money on the war on drugs, can
sound much more credible than the old potheads' argument ... But it's a
slippery slope. Before you know it, it's OK to sell [marijuana] in the
stores, and the kids aren't showing up at school any more because they're
stoned.''

For 13 years, the flag-bearer of the movement to reform marijuana laws was
the annual Freedom Rally, put on by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform
Coalition.

But some argue that the rally's thousands of stoned youths in ripped jeans
hurt the cause more than helped it. In 1998, a Globe article called the
rally's participants 1960s ''throwbacks.'' In 1999, a Herald editorial
called them ''burned-out relics.'' Perhaps the height of negative publicity
came when the coalition's president, Bill Dowling, was arrested for donning
a pig's snout and oinking at undercover police.

''I think the public gets alarmed by people who show up at the rallies and
flout the law,'' said Dolan. ''The rally doesn't do much to change people's
minds on the issue. It may have to some degree the opposite effect.''

Two years ago, a group of coalition volunteers diverted their efforts from
the rally to a signature-collecting push to put decriminalization on the
ballot in three legislative districts. Decriminalization, they argued,
would not change much: While those found guilty of possessing marijuana can
face up to six months in jail, the vast majority of cases only result in a
fine. Changing the law - which 13 states have already done - would be more
efficient and would not risk a young offender's access to jobs and student
loans, activists argue. Critics counter that it would send the wrong
message to teenagers and could bring a dramatic increase in drug use.

But in 2000, the measures passed in all three districts, including the
communities of Somerville, Framingham, and Ipswich. That victory prompted
180-degree policy shifts among some lawmakers. State Senator Charles
Shannon, a former police officer, sponsored a bill on Beacon Hill that he
would have once vehemently opposed.

''My constituents told me in overwhelming numbers that they support the
decriminalization of less than an ounce of marijuana,'' Shannon, a Democrat
from Somerville, told the Criminal Justice Committee in March 2001.

''Current law dictates that people who use marijuana on a purely personal
basis be classified as criminals. In the case of first-time offenders, we
are forcing them to relive their past mistakes every time they apply for a
job or every time they apply for a student loan,'' he said.

Emboldened by their legislative successes, some Cannabis Reform Coalition
activists formed the Drug Policy Forum, which they hoped would lobby for
change in all drug policy.

''There's a bunch of us who ... thought that there needed to be another
face, besides what appeared at the Freedom Rally,'' said Cutler, 53, who
once helped organize the event.

While the coalition's members are known for eating hemp cereal, reading the
magazine High Times, and socializing with subgroups like Jamaica Plain's
''Grannies for Ganja,'' the Drug Policy Forum has sought support from
academics and conservative think tanks. And while the coalition survives
off grass-roots membership dues, works out of members' homes, and is barred
by law from certain political activities, the Drug Policy Forum has already
received grant money, laid groundwork for opening a full-time office, and
commissioned Miron, a BU economist, to study how much minor marijuana
offenses cost the state.

The forum also scored a major victory by recruiting Dolan as an adviser.
Years ago, Cutler was a young lawyer defending a marijuana smoker and Dolan
was the presiding judge who refused to dismiss the case. But after years of
presiding over drug-related homicide trials in Dorchester, Dolan decided
drug offenses should be treated as a public health problem, not crimes. He
helped found the state's drug courts, which offer alternative sentences for
addicts.

''I was a judge when all of the motor-vehicle offenses were criminal
matters - speeding, red lights,'' Dolan said, adding it is ''just a matter
of time'' before marijuana possession is also decriminalized.

David Rosenbloom, a longtime critic of the marijuana movement who heads
Join Together, a drug prevention group, acknowledges that the activists'
new tactics are starting to tap into the concerns of mainstream society by
emphasizing cost savings and treatment.

Still, Rosenbloom wondered how new the Drug Policy Forum really is.

''Is that a new organization or just a new name?'' he asked. ''I suspect
it's many of the same people who have been working on this issue over the
years.''

That's a question that even the activists themselves have yet to answer.

Both the Cannabis Reform Coalition and the Drug Policy Forum sent out news
releases over this year's ballot success, praising the teamwork that led to
victory.

But privately, Dowling grumbles that the forum did not do as much work as
the coalition. ''They started late in the game and provided some paid
signature-gatherers, whose signatures were frankly not nearly as quality as
the ones our volunteers collected,'' he said.

Still, in this movement, there's no place for rivalry.

''It may be the public's perception that MassCANN is a bunch of freaks and
DPF is a strait-laced group, but that's not reality,'' Dowling said.
''Everybody that's involved in the Drug Policy Forum met through MassCANN
... We have always had more than one face.''


Pubdate: Sun 17 Nov 2002
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Author: Farah Stockman
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