How Walsh, Baker, and Healey Constructed Their Anti-Marijuana Op-Ed
A March 4 op-ed in the Boston Globe, plainly titled “Mass. should not legalize marijuana,” drew attention for its joint byline of Gov. Charlie Baker, State Attorney General Maura Healey, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. The issue is a rare bipartisan one, aligning Democrats Walsh and Healey and Republican Baker against a growing push to make Massachusetts, whether by legislation or ballot question, the fifth state to legalize recreational marijuana after Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington.
Walsh has said he would “absolutely” lead the charge against legalization, while Baker has said he’ll “always be opposed to legalizing. Though she helped decriminalize small amounts of weed in 2008, Healey remains opposed to legalization as well, telling Boston magazine last August: “I think we’re going to end up with a lot of people walking around smoking a lot of pot…We all grew up with the stoners.”
Thanks to internal emails obtained by Boston via public records request, we can see how this op-ed was carefully assembled by the staffs of the three most powerful voices against legalization in the Bay State.
The piece—accompanied by an illustration of a hand reaching into a bear trap for a stack of cash festooned with a pot leaf—argued that legalization would have negative impacts on both public health and safety, and depicted the movement’s financial backers as “big businesses and investors” seeking to profit off the burgeoning industry.
“For the past year, our teams have worked tirelessly, together and with our partners across Massachusetts, to combat the heroin and prescription-drug epidemic that is ravaging our state,” the troika wrote. “Our emergency departments and drug treatment centers are beyond capacity, and our first responders are stretched to their limits. We should not be expanding access to a drug that will further drain our health and safety resources.”
Eugene O’Flaherty of the city’s Law Department met with Joanna Lydgate, Assistant AG and director of policy, in early January. Per that meeting, Lydgate sent O’Flaherty a draft op-ed the following month for Walsh’s staff to review.
“The Governor and his team have taken a preliminary look at this and may have more comments, but we wanted to get it over to you guys as quickly as possible to see what your reactions are,” Lydgate said in a February 10 email. Nearly two weeks later, she followed up. “Today’s article in the Globe on the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado got me thinking about our proposed op-ed. Have you had a chance to take a look at it?”
(Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, Healey’s communications director, in an email to Boston Tuesday, maintains that the op-ed was an idea that Baker, Healey, and Walsh “came to collaboratively after a conversation on this issue.”)
On February 22, Walsh’s chief communications officer Laura Oggeri shared the draft with the policy team, including director Joyce Linehan, speechwriter Eoin Cannon, and Ché Knight and Jennifer Tracey of the Boston Public Health Commission. “Can everyone take a quick look at this today?” she said. “This will be authored by the Mayor and AG, possibly the Mayor, AG and Governor.”
“This is great—rooted enough in science to be compelling, but the language still makes an emotional appear to the reader,” Knight said. “Flows nicely, too.” Linehan suggested incorporating points made in a WCVB story on recent medical studies examining marijuana’s effect on children and teens, including research by a Mass. General neuroscientist indicating a change in brain structure.
“I think the health impacts should be stated up front, before getting into the motives of the proponents,” Cannon said. In a February 25 email, Tracey praised his edits:
Thank you Eoin, for hitting the major points –
- Big business
- Additionally the commercial side of marketing that targets youth
- Proven correlation between decreased perception of harm as laws have changed (decrim [sic], medical) and increased use with young people
- As stated, the younger a person uses any substance, increased problems with [substance use disorder] later on
The piece’s kicker, for example, changed three times between the (1) initial draft, (2) Walsh’s policy team’s revised draft, and (3) what eventually landed on the Globe‘s opinion page (emphasis ours):
- Now is not the time to expand access to a drug that will drain health and safety resources even further.
- Now is not the time to expand access to a drug that will lead more young people and their families down this terrifying path and further drain our health and safety resources.
- We should not be expanding access to a drug that will further drain our health and safety resources.
Walsh’s team’s revision (2) firms up the language in the initial draft (1), making it sound more decisive.
- And they’re 40 percent more likely to be regular users than their peers in Massachusetts. That may be because kids in states that have legalized marijuana have easier access to the drug, or they may believe that, since the drug is legal for adults, it must be safe to use.
- And they’re 40 percent more likely to be regular users than their peers in Massachusetts. Kids in states that have legalized marijuana have easier access to the drug. And many believe that, since the drug is legal for adults, it must be safe to use.
The next day, Oggeri passed along the edits to the two other camps and asked Lon Povich, Baker’s chief legal counsel, if the governor’s name would be included in the byline. “As I understand it, all three of the elected officials will be listed in the byline,” Povich said. “The Governor is fine with this version. As I understand it, Tim [Buckley, Baker’s communications director] will pitch to the Globe as soon as Joanna confirms that the AGO is content with this draft.”
In a March 2 email, Gonzalez asked Walsh’s team if the paragraph about the legalization movement’s financial backers could be moved higher up in the piece. (The initial draft originally had it second.) But because Baker wanted the op-ed done by the following afternoon, and Walsh wouldn’t get a chance to look at it until the following Monday, Healey’s camp relented and the piece was submitted.
Marjorie Pritchard, opinion page editor at the Globe, sent Buckley and press secretary Lizzy Guyton edits for review on March 4, which Buckey shared with Oggeri and Gonzalez. “Thanks—we prefer that his name is listed as ‘Martin J. Walsh’ if she can do that,” Oggeri said.
There appears to have been some confusion over when Baker, Healey, and Walsh’s piece was supposed to run. “While we agreed to have the op-ed post on Monday- the globe went ahead and published online tonight,” Guyton said. “I have noticed [sic] the senate presidents office. We have contacted the globe about this misstep on their end.” (State Senate Stan Rosenberg has previously said he’s open to the idea of legalization.)
“Globe said it was indeed a mistake. They may remove from web and repost Sunday night,” Buckley replied.
“Thanks. Looks like they may have done that,” Lydgate said.
The op-ed, as it currently appears on the Globe‘s website, is still dated March 4.