Press Release  | 10/02/2000

Unanimous Vote by Supreme Judicial Court Keeps Question 8 on November Ballot

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Drug Money for Drug Treatment Strategy will go to voters

Yes on 8: the Coalition for Fair Treatment (Yes on 8) hailed today's unanimous ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court keeping Question 8, the Fair Treatment Initiative, on the November ballot.

"We are gratified the Court has ruled that Question 8 should be brought before voters this fall," said Yes on 8 Chair Deena Whitfield. "Today's ruling assures that Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to change the focus of the Commonwealth's drug policy from current failed programs to a balanced and effective strategy based on drug treatment."

The Court rejected the position of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association unanimously. In the Court's opinion, Justice Francis X. Spina, himself a former prosecutor, rejected each of the seven arguments against the constitutionality of Question 8. The Court also specifically rejected the standing of the district attorneys to deprive voters of the opportunity to decide whether Question 8 should become law.

"All provisions of ... [Question 8] relate ... to expanding the scope of the Commonwealth's drug treatment programs and ... 'fairly' funding those programs," wrote Justice Spina. Earlier, Attorney General Thomas Reilly had argued that the initiative was constitutional, and that all its provisions clearly relate to the single objective of expanding drug treatment in Massachusetts.

The Commonwealth's district attorneys -- who, along with local police departments, currently keep millions in drug assets they confiscate each year -- had steadfastly opposed Question 8, filing motion after motion aimed at keeping voters from deciding on the crucial public policy question.

"The many supporters of Question 8 are particularly grateful to Attorney General Reilly for vigorously defending the validity of this important drug-policy initiative," said Carl Valvo, counsel to the Coalition for Fair Treatment, which supports Question 8. "We have always felt that the measure was written thoughtfully and carefully, and we are thankful that the Court agrees with us that voters should be able to decide how to pursue drug reform in the Commonwealth."

"We know that drug treatment works and is more effective than incarceration in returning addicts to useful, productive lives," added David Gastfriend, M.D., Director of Addiction Services at Massachusetts General Hospital and a strong "Yes on 8" proponent. "Especially now, when the U.S. Government has identified Massachusetts as a state with a serious and growing drug problem, we need to place more reliance on treatment if we are to make real headway in combating drug abuse."

Ms. Whitfield noted, "Now that the SJC has definitively ruled against the DAs, the prosecutors have no excuse to avoid a meaningful dialog on adopting a drug strategy that really works."

Question 8 would require that drug money be used to pay for drug treatment for first- and second-time offenders and would create a Drug Treatment Trust Fund under the administration of the state Department of Public Health to distribute assets seized from drug dealers. Question 8 also would enable judges to direct youthful low-level offenders into court-supervised treatment rather than jail. This is a particularly important provision of the ballot question, since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that Massachusetts has the highest percentage of young people aged 12 to 25 addicted to a wide variety of drugs.

"The district attorneys have had years to demonstrate the soundness of their approach," Dr. Gastfriend concluded. "The latest drug statistics are solid evidence that it is not working, and the implications for the young people of the Commonwealth who are addicted to alcohol and drugs, and for those of us who care about them, are staggering."

In addition to former Attorneys General Francis X. Bellotti, Scott Harshbarger, and James Shannon, the Fair Treatment Initiative is supported by:

  • Congressman and former Norfolk County District Attorney William Delahunt;
  • the Dean of the Boston University School of Public Health;
  • the League of Woman Voters of Massachusetts;
  • the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts;
  • the Massachusetts Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors;
  • the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers;
  • the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition;
  • the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts;

and thousands of other individuals and organizations who are concerned about protecting individual rights while introducing more effective anti-drug policies.

The Coalition for Fair Treatment
McCormack P.O. Box 1555
Boston, MA 02104

Tel: (617) 330-8777
Fax: (617) 330-8774

Al Gordon at 617-330-8777 or Marty Fifield at 617-330-8777

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