One of NORML’s primary functions is to educate the public. Day in and day out NORML’s staff and affiliates work tirelessly to promote factual and scientific information about cannabis — information that in an ideal world would be provided to the public by drug educators, health providers, and police, were not all three entities directly involved in supporting the continuation pot prohibition.
Why does NORML work so diligently to provide this information to the general population? We do so, in large part, because we know that our politicians opponents — including many members of the before-mentioned groups — have no qualms lying about pot in order to stifle our reform efforts. We also know that the mainstream media rarely takes the time or effort to challenge their disinformation.
Unfortunately, as we are seeing in Massachusetts, lies unduly influence voters — particularly when those doing the lying are those the public trusts.
Since September, a coalition consisting of the state’s 11 district attorneys, along with numerous members of law enforcement, have campaigned vociferously against Question 2 — a proposal to reduce minor marijuana possession to a fine-only offense — falsely claiming that the measure will increase adolescent drug abuse, permit large-scale marijuana trafficking, endanger workplace safety, and sharply increase traffic fatalities. (Reality check: If passed, Question 2 would equalize Massachusetts pot penalties with those of neighboring Maine, which last time I checked, isn’t suffering from any such pot-related catastrophes.)
A recent statewide poll conducted by Suffolk University indicates the extent to which our opponents’ lies are influencing the public. Support for Question 2 has dipped precipitously since the launch of the D.A.s’ campaign (though it still remains above 50 percent), with the greatest loss of support occurring among those age 65 and older. (Support among this voting block fell from 70 percent in August to just 40 percent in October.)
This drop, though troubling, is hardly surprising. Those older Americans who typically lack first-hand experience with cannabis and may be unaware of NORML’s efforts are most susceptible to the lies politicians and police spew about pot.
Conversely, support among younger voters in Massachusetts (those defined by pollsters as 45-years-old and younger) has held above 60 percent despite the cops’ smear campaign. In large part, this is also to be expected. After all, these voters are, statistically, most likely to possess first-hand knowledge of cannabis (or still be current users) and are arguably more familiar with NORML’s educational efforts. As a result, they are more likely to be dismissive of the D.A.s’ cynical rhetoric — as they should be.
Will the D.A.s’ disinformation campaign ultimately be responsible for the defeat of Question 2? We’ll know in eight days, but I remain cautiously optimistic. Previous law enforcement led propaganda campaigns designed to defeat statewide medicinal marijuana initiatives have almost universally failed. That said, it can be argued that older voters — the voting block that has the potential to tip Question 2 one way or the other — more readily identify with the medical use issue than the recreational aspects of pot.
One thing is for certain, our opponents’ smears and scare-tactics have made this battle too close to call — and once again revealed that those who support (or whose livelihoods are based upon) pot prohibition will do or say anything in order to keep our community in cages.