Pubdate: Tue, 24 Oct 2000
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2000 The Eagle-Tribune
Contact:  P.O. Box 100 Lawrence, MA 01842
Fax: (978) 687-6045
Author: Lisa Chow


Fourth Essex District Will Vote On A Nonbonding Marijuana Decriminalization 
Question On Nov. 7

Georgetown - Calling it a "traumatic experience for everyone," Steven S. 
Epstein, founder of the Massachusetts Cannabis Coalition, listed what he 
believes are "overly punitive" sentences against marijuana users.

Mr. Epstein, a lawyer who lives in Georgetown, said depending on their 
record, those charged with marijuana possession could face probation or up 
to two years in jail and be fined up to $2,000.  They could also have their 
driver's license suspended for up to five years and lose other privileges, 
such as federally guaranteed student loans.

He calls arresting and criminally prosecuting marijuana users "a waste of 

Mr. Epstein feels so strongly about the issue that he hopes to turn around 
the state laws against marijuana possession, changing it from a criminal 
offense to a civil violation.  With the help of 290 registered voters, Mr. 
Epstein managed to get a nonbinding question on the Fourth Essex 
Representative District Ballot.

On Nov. 7, voters from Boxford, Precinct 2 in Georgetown, Hamilton, 
Ipswich, Manchester by-the-Sea and Wenham will be able to weigh in on the 

The question asks: "Shall the representative of this district be instructed 
to introduce and for legislation that would make possession of marijuana a 
civil violation, like a traffic ticket instead of a criminal offense, and 
requiring the police to hold a person under 18 cited for possession until 
released to a parent or legal guardian, or brought before a judge?"

Republican state Rep. Bradford R. Hill, who is running against Libertarian 
Francis Mackay-Smith, said if he were elected, it would take a "huge 
majority" for him to propose marijuana decriminalization to the state 

"Eighty percent of the people would have to say, 'Brad, go do this,' " he said.

But, Rep. Hill added, "I'd be very surprised if it passes at all."

In a recent interview, Rep. Hill said he received 13 calls from people 
"absolutely against this."

"They consider it a mind-altering drug like alcohol," he said, that can 
affect driving and cause accidents.

Mr. Mackay-Smith, however, said he would support such a measure if elected 
to the Legislature, and if voters agreed with Mr. Epstein.

Speaking of Vice President Al Gore, President Bill Clinton and Texas Gov. 
George W. Bush, he said, "All three admitted to using marijuana . . . Would 
they be better off now having served a five-year jail sentence?" he asked. 
"I don't think so."

If the question passes, Mr. Epstein would give a draft of the proposed 
legislation to whoever wins the state House seat.  He said the proposed law 
would impose a fine of $300 to those found in possession of the 
drug.  People charged with intent to distribute would be treated as they 
are under current law.

Opponents to the question have argued marijuana is a gateway to stronger 
drugs, such as cocaine, and that decriminalizing marijuana use is the first 
step to legalizing the drug.  They say if penalties are relaxed more young 
adults will be encouraged to use marijuana.

Mr. Epstein disagrees.  He points to Dr. Lynn Zimmer's and Dr. John P. 
Morgan's book, "Marijuana Myths Marijuana Facts" to back his arguments.  In 
this 241-page book, the two authors try to dispel the idea that marijuana 
is an addictive, gateway drug, and that it impairs memory and cognition.

But Rep. Hill said about Mr. Epstein, "He thinks it's recreation. Clearly, 
it is not."

Rep. Hill believes there are "bigger issues" to deal with, such as 
prescription drugs and open space.  "It's probably on the low end of the 
priority list," he said.
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