Organizers of a referendum campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in Massachusetts accused Walpole’s police chief on Thursday of veering into political advocacy by speaking at a campaign event organized by opponents of the November ballot measure.
Chief John Carmichael, who has been an outspoken advocate about the dangers of substance abuse, participated in the June 23 event in Framingham to detail what he said were public safety concerns about the dangers of edible products derived from marijuana.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol said it filed a complaint to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance arguing that Carmichael should not have come to the event in uniform during work hours, and should not have used his departmental car to get there.
“Chief Carmichael is entitled to his opinions, but he is not entitled to express those opinions at campaign events while on taxpayer time and using taxpayer-funded resources,” campaign manager Will Luzier said in a statement announcing the filing.
Carmichael denied doing anything wrong, and said in an interview that the appearance was an extension of his work representing the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association on drug issues.
He was part of a group that traveled to Colorado to examine the effects of marijuana legalization there, and said he was concerned about the advent of edible products, which he believes could be hazardous to children.
“That’s a public safety issue that I think we’re obligated to educate the public on,” he said. “Apparently there’s a push to have me silenced now so I can’t educate the community as to the dangers of these substances.”
He added: “I never try to tell anybody how to vote.”
Guidance issued by the state campaign office says appointed officials like Carmichael “may act or speak out about a ballot question in their official capacity during work hours if in doing so they are acting within the scope of their official responsibilities.”
The state also says campaign finance law “prohibits the use of public funds or other public resources to support or oppose a question put to voters.”
The proposed referendum would legalize marijuana for those 21 and older, and allow retail sales beginning in January 2018.
Corey Welford, spokesman for the Safe and Healthy Massachusetts Campaign, which opposes legalization, issued a statement that accused supporters of “attacking a respected police chief for educating people about the dangerous edibles market.”
Opponents of the ballot measure have argued that powerful marijuana industry interests are behind a measure that could harm public health. Supporters say they are trying to institute a more sensible enforcement policy for a drug that is less dangerous than alcohol.
Pro-legalization campaign spokesman Jim Borghesani said there is “nothing personal” about the complaint regarding Carmichael.
“As the top police official in Walpole, he should be accountable for his actions,” Borghesani said.