cannabisnews.com: Billionaire Out To Shake Up State Drug Laws 





Billionaire Out To Shake Up State Drug Laws 
Posted by FoM on May 20, 2000 at 15:04:12 PT
By Steve Leblanc, Associated Press
Source: Boston Globe
He's offered $1 million to boost needle exchange programs, lent the Russian government hundreds of millions to pay overdue pensions and bankrolled ballot questions legalizing the medical use of marijuana. Now international financier and billionaire philanthropist George Soros has set his sights on dramatically changing Massachusetts' drug laws. 
And he's going straight to the voters. Soros is one of three out-of-state backers who have paid up $122,500 each to fund a ballot question making it harder for police to seize money from suspected drug dealers and easier for dealers to be sentenced to treatment instead of jail time. Supporters say the changes which favor treatment over incarceration are long overdue. ''Filling our jails with people who have a drug addiction crowds out violent offenders for whom there is no mandatory sentence,'' said Deena Whitfield, chairwoman of the Coalition for Fair Treatment, the group behind the ballot question. Not everyone agrees. The state's district attorneys vigorously oppose the measure, which they say will not only make it harder to snuff out the drug trade by seizing its profits but also will make it tougher to put drug dealers behind bars. The ballot question is a ''wolf in sheep's clothing,'' according to Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley. ''It is a clear end-run around the legal system. It is a drug dealers' support petition,'' Coakley said. ''It really makes it much more likely the drug dealers will keep their profits.'' Local police associations and crime watch groups also have weighed in against the question. Even some who are sympathetic to the issue raised by the question worry about the use of out-of-state private money and paid signatures gatherers. The ballot initiative process initially was designed to give ordinary citizens the chance to hold their lawmakers' feet to the fire by banding together, according to George Pillsbury, director of the Massachusetts Money and Politics Project. Increasingly, that process is being hijacked by wealthy individuals and corporations who pay people to gather signatures of registered voters, he said. At least six of the eight questions on track for the November ballot used hired signature gatherers. Unlike contributions to political candidates, there is no limit on donations to groups promoting ballot questions. Corporations, which are banned outright from donating to candidates, also are allowed to give as much as they want to petitions initiatives. ''A place on the ballot is for sale and has become a commodity,'' Pillsbury said. ''There should be a threshold of volunteers collecting signatures.'' The bulk of the money raised in support of this ballot question by Soros, Peter Lewis of Cleveland and John Sperling of Phoenix about $320,000 went to a California-based company Progressive Campaigns Inc. to hire signature gatherers. The group pulled in about 75,000 names, far more than needed, at a cost of more than $4 per signature. Soros, Sperling and Lewis share the same views on drug policies and have supported similar initiatives in other states, including a 1996 measure in Arizona, according to Sam Vagenas, a campaign consultant for Sperling. ''They believe the war on drugs is failing and we need more of a public health approach to fight drugs,'' Vagenas said. Soros, of Katonak, N.Y., makes his charitable donations through his Open Society Institute in New York. Sperling is the founder of the University of Phoenix, a for-profit college education program with campuses in 30 states. Lewis is CEO of the Progressive Insurance Corp. Supporters of the question are unapologetic about their reliance on out-of-state backers and hired help. The group tried for years to push sentencing reform measures through the legislature with little success before Soros stepped in to help, according to Whitfield. ''Ideas don't have state boundaries. This is about an idea,'' she said. In addition to allowing judges to offer treatment instead of incarceration, the bill also ends what supporters call a blatant conflict of interest: local police and district attorneys splitting the money and property seized from suspected drug dealers. ''It really sets up a bit of incentive when they need money for their department,'' said Steve Saloom of the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, which helped write the ballot question. Part of the concern is that property and money can be seized before an individual is found guilty of a drug crime, backers say. Last year, Middlesex County, the state's largest county, took in about $250,000 in proceeds from suspected drug dealers, according to Coakley. The seized money is even more important to local police departments struggling with smaller budgets, she said. Plymouth County District Attorney Michael Sullivan defended the practice, saying the money is used to combat the drug trade. ''Many neighborhoods have been decimated by drug dealing,'' Sullivan said. ''Assets that are derived as a result of criminal activity...should be forfeited to the state and should be used for lawful purposes.'' Supporters of the question say it targets low-level drug users, but Sullivan and other opponents say it would allow dealers to avoid jail simply by claiming they are drug addicted or simply at risk of becoming addicted. Supporters of the question are now gathering a final 10,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot. If successful, the question will be in the hands of voters in November. Boston (AP) Published: May 20, 2000 Copyright 2000 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, Inc. The Soros Foundation Networkhttp://www.soros.org/CannabisNews Articles On George Soros:http://alltheweb.com/cgi-bin/search?type=all&query=cannabisnews+soros
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on May 21, 2000 at 06:06:48 PT:
Once more, the masks are coming off.
Funny, when the first voices were raised in support of RICO and forfeiture back in the early 70's, these people were all *for* the democratic process that brought this abomination about. Of course, theirs were the loudest voices squalling for it. Suddenly, people who couldn't be bothered to vote for local elections discovered civic virtues and exercising their franchise as citizens by voting. Then they sat back and waited for the money to come rolling in. As it has for 20 years.But now that gravy train is being threatened, we are seeing the flip side of the coin at work. We are seeing the basically anti-democratic nature of the DrugWarriors raising its' ugly head. And bellowing about the dangers to democracy caused by referenda.The ballot question is a ''wolf in sheep's clothing,'' according to Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley. ''It is a clear end-run around the legal system. It is a drug dealers' support petition,'' Coakley said. ''It really makes it much more likely the drug dealers will keep their profits.'' No, what it is actually is a means of controlling the police by establishing rules and accountability. You are *for* rules and accountability of public servants, aren't you, Ms. Coakley? Especially when those public servants seem to have a vested interest in a system where they presently are un-accountable?'Even some who are sympathetic to the issue raised by the question worry about the use of out-of-state private money and paid signatures gatherers.'Let's see, now. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been collected - and squandered - by the Federal government and funnelled back into the States to...hey, wait a minute. *Some* of that money came from out of State! Oh my gosh! Perhaps the LEO recipients in Massachussetts would like to send me a check for the funds taken from me under threat of prison (read the bottom of your 1040 form, just above the signature line, people; they aren't asking pretty-please for your dough, they are *threatening* you for it.) and given to these people in another State. Yep, they're all for democracy...when they are the beneficiaries of it's largesse. But just let their precious gravy train be threatened, and these people show their true colors right quick. And start mouthing off about the dangers (as they see it) of the democratic process in allowing the 'wrong people' (like Jews, homosexuals, tax protestors, drug users, etc) to have a say in government. Which they never had any respect for in the first place. Such a sudden interest in something they have been trampelling upon for the last 20 years
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Comment #1 posted by MikeEEEEE on May 20, 2000 at 16:55:06 PT
This tell$ why the drug war live$
From the above article: Last year, Middlesex County, the state's largest county, took in about $250,000 in proceeds from suspected drug dealers, according to Coakley. The seized money is even more important to local police departments struggling with smaller budgets, she said. 
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