Pubdate: Fri, 15 May 2015
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2015 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Joshua Miller


NORTHAMPTON - The response to Dick Evans at the State House was not warm.

The lawyer had drafted a bill legalizing, regulating, and taxing 
marijuana, and it was among the topics of a public hearing.

Evans made his case in a short speech. "Antidrug crusader types," of 
whom there were many, also had their say, he recalled. Then, a 
legislator asked those in the big crowd who opposed legalization to 
make themselves known.

"The building shook," Evans said, laughing. "They are still talking 
about the roar that was heard."

The hearing was gaveled to a close, and Evans said, "that was it for 
about 35 years."

It was 1981.

Evans, 71, with a shock of white hair, has been involved in pressing 
for the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts as long as just 
about anyone. Now, as chairman of a group pushing to legalize 
recreational marijuana use by popular vote in 2016, he is poised to 
be a key player in an effort that could successfully conclude his 
nearly four decades of advocacy.

The group, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in 
Massachusetts, is backed by the national, well-funded Marijuana 
Policy Project, and he is currently working with others on crafting 
the specific parameters of a ballot initiative for 2016 - from how 
marijuana would be regulated to the rate of a tax on the drug.

After robust Massachusetts majorities approved measures that 
decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008 and 
allowed its use for medical purposes in 2012, political analysts 
predict a legalization measure will probably garner the tens of 
thousands of signatures necessary to get on the ballot and enough 
votes to pass into law.

But the journey to the precipice of legalization has been a long one.

Barry Smith, a friend who traveled with him to the 1981 hearing, said 
the reaction to Evans's bill was not "the least bit respectful" - 
though not negative enough for Evans to call it quits.

"Dick is a very, very ebullient fellow, and his spirits weren't 
permanently damaged," Smith said, "but it wasn't an easy experience."

Sporting a cannabis-green tie in a recent interview at his small law 
office, Evans recalled the genesis of his advocacy.

The youngest of three boys, he grew up in Tampa. His father was a 
federal probation officer, his mother a school teacher. All the 
brothers became lawyers and, Evans said chuckling, one a drug court judge.

After four years in the military, including some time in the Pioneer 
Valley, he returned to Florida for law school, where he said he 
struggled squaring the constitutional law he was reading with the 
country's drug statutes.

Evans moved to Massachusetts and was admitted to the state's bar in 1973.

A few years later, he was hanging out with a colleague on a Saturday, 
"passing a joint," talking about how "wrong-headed" the marijuana 
laws were, he remembered. The colleague encouraged him to get 
involved, and Evans joined NORML, the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws.

After some years in the movement, he said, he began to think that 
perhaps the reason no one was seriously talking about legalizing 
marijuana is that no one had shown how it could be done.

"I said, 'Someone needs to write a comprehensive statute,' " Evans 
said in the interview, "So I did!"

He leapt up on a chair to grab his original legalization bill from a shelf.

Of course, the 1981 effort did not work out as planned, and Evans 
said he gave up on Beacon Hill, but not on the issue.

"The notion of prohibiting all use of marijuana by all persons in all 
circumstances, and punishing violators severely," he said, "runs 
counter to the very notion of freedom."

Eric E. Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy 
Foundation, a drug law reform group, recalled meeting Evans for the 
first time at a NORML conference in the early 1980s.

"I was tremendously impressed with him. I remember he gave a very 
articulate, well-constructed argument for marijuana legalization," 
Sterling said, adding that, at that time, there were not that many 
people advocating for the idea.

Evans's paper trail of advocacy is long. Among his many appearances 
in print, a 1980 op-ed in The New York Times ("The principle that 
government does not belong on people's backs cannot be tortured to 
justify the arrest and prosecution of people for what they smoke."); 
and quotes in a 1996 issue of Time magazine about what he told his 
son about drugs ("Don't believe much of what they tell you in school 
about drugs. For example, don't buy into the notion that drug 'abuse' 
is the same as drug 'use.' ")

Evans's life is not all marijuana advocacy. His primary legal 
practice focuses on land conservation. He's a Northampton resident, 
he plays trumpet, and he is involved with a nearby pumpkin festival.

But he said he has felt a sense of duty to press on the legalization issue.

"My job, over the last couple of decades, has been to try and keep 
the issue alive in Massachusetts - I and other people," he said.

Others in the push to legalize see Evans as both influential and a 
good team player.

He is "a mover and shaker in the activist movement," not shy about 
speaking his mind, but "doesn't try and steal the spotlight," said 
Bill Downing, a fellow legalization activist who has known Evans for 25 years.

But Evans says his advocacy won't last forever: Once marijuana is 
legal, he plans to retire.

So for all his talk, is Evans himself a user?

He said he has avoided speaking about his own use of marijuana 
publicly because he has not wanted to give probable cause for his 
arrest or, these days, for a civil infraction.

"I'll tell you what," Evans said leaning in toward a reporter, "when 
you and I can share a joint and neither of us has to worry about our 
job" - he slapped the table for emphasis - "I'll talk about it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom