Pubdate: Sat, 08 Nov 2008
Source: Patriot Ledger, The  (Quincy, MA)
Copyright: 2008 GateHouse Media, Inc.
Referenced: Massachusetts  Cannabis Reform Coalition
Referenced: Question 2
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Popular)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Regulation)


BOSTON - The district attorney and the head of  the group that
pushed Massachusetts voters to overwhelmingly back a huge  reduction
in the penalty for marijuana possession don't agree on a lot of

One thing on which they do agree: Voters bought the argument that kids
and adults caught with marijuana are unfairly burdened under the
present law, which can saddle them with a criminal record for the rest
of their lives. Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating said
that perception is, in fact, a myth, no matter what voters believed.

Most first-time offenders, he said, have their cases dismissed before
arraignment. Whitney Taylor is chairwoman of the Committee for
Sensible Marijuana Policy, the group largely responsible for passage
this past week of the ballot question  that will reduce the penalty
for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana  to a ticket and a
$100 fine. Taylor argued the punishments under the existing  law have
prevented respectable people from getting jobs, school loans or
custody  of their children. "The current law does more harm than
good, " she said in a post-election interview. Statewide, 64 percent
, nearly 2 million people , voted Tuesday to change the  marijuana
law, a level that exceeded even President-elect Barack Obama's
support  in the state.

The measure won the support of a majority of voters in every South
Shore town except Braintree, where 52 percent voted against reducing
the  penalty. The new law takes effect 30 days after being reported to
the Governor's Council in November or December. It makes possession
of under an ounce of marijuana punishable by a $100 civil fine. Those
caught will no longer be  reported to the state's Criminal History
Board. Proponents said the broad support proves there is widespread
belief , "not only among marijuana smokers," that criminal
penalties for personally using the drug are too harsh, and that people
caught with small amounts of marijuana are  unfairly haunted later.

The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, with about  500
volunteers, alone spent $1 million to persuade voters. Police
should focus on victim crimes," said John Leonard of Hingham, a
51-year-old who acknowledged smoking marijuana on occasion. Hanover
High School Principal Thomas Raab said the impact of the vote is
dangerous, especially for young people who might interpret popular
support for decriminalization as proof that marijuana is harmless.
"It's a very poor message," Raab said. Law enforcement officials
say the vote marks a step back in the fight against drugs. Will it
exacerbate our drug problem?

Yes," said Lt. John McDonough, head of the Quincy Police
Department's drug control unit. District Attorney Keating said
police will be hard-pressed to enforce the new law as proposed.

Without stricter identification laws, people caught with marijuana
could simply give an officer a fake name and deny having
identification. What are police going to do, he said. McDonough
said his detectives are unlikely to issue the civil tickets often to
people caught with marijuana. They'll pop the top and pour it
out," McDonough said. "It takes half an hour  to tag it as evidence.

Why tie up the lab for something that's not a crime? Bill
Downing, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition,
applauded the vote's outcome, saying current laws disproportionately
hurt minorities in low-income areas. Sure, if you're a suburban
honkey, then yeah, they'll divert you," Downing said. "But if
you're a black kid from a high-enforcement area, you get a criminal
record. Decriminalization proponents say the state will save $30
million in annual criminal justice costs. Retired Boston police Sgt.
Howard Donahue of Sharon, who was in a commercial supporting Question
Two, said, "Rather than spending time, energy and taxpayer  funds to
book and process 7,500 small-scale offenders every year, officers
would  take the marijuana away, write ... a ticket and move  on.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin