Pubdate: Sun, 09 Nov 2008
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2008 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Brian Messenger
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Lawmakers Still Unsure About Implementation

Nearly 2 million people voted to ease the state's marijuana laws last
week, but to Haverhill Deputy police Chief Donald Thompson, the new
guidelines simply don't make sense.

Under the new rules, he said, an 18-year-old stopped for a routine
traffic violation who is found to have under an ounce of marijuana on
him would not be arrested. But if the same person has a single,
unopened beer in the car, he would be subject to arrest.

"I don't think people thought it through," Thompson said of Question
2, which was approved by 65 percent of voters at the polls on Tuesday.

The ballot question called for the decriminalization of the possession
of small amounts of marijuana. Those caught with an ounce or less will
be forced to give up the drugs and pay a $100 fine instead of criminal
penalties. Those under 18 will be required to complete a drug
awareness program or face a stiffer $1,000 fine.

Groveland police Chief Robert Kirmelewicz said he fears that under the
relaxed law, drug dealers will take more chances selling marijuana,
especially to younger people. The current penalty for possession of
small amounts of marijuana in Massachusetts is up to six months in
jail and a $500 fine.

"I feel this will not only encourage the use of marijuana in
communities, but will also empower drug dealers to sell marijuana to
our children, knowing the absence of criminal prosecution,"
Kirmelewicz said. "I am very disappointed with the passing of this

"What I envision is that they (dealers) carry less than an ounce of
marijuana on them so they don't have to worry about prosecution.
You're talking a $100 fine. A speeding ticket is more money than that.
It's crazy. You're going to let a guy you would normally arrest walk
away with almost an ounce of pot."

The revised law is expected to go into effect in late December or
early January, or 30 days after the governor is presented with
official election results. That gives local law enforcement officials
less than two months to adapt to the new rules.

Until that time, possession of any amount of marijuana is still a
criminal offense, according to Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is
working to determine exactly what the new rules will require the legal
system to do.

Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, who opposed Question
2, met with Coakley, other district attorneys, and representatives
from the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security on
Friday to discuss the implementation of the new law.

Many questions remain as to exactly how the law will be enforced,
Blodgett said, including whether or not a central registry will be
created to keep track of marijuana possession fines; how challenges to
a fine will be handled; and how the state's Department of Family and
Children will handle the drug education awareness component of the

He said the district attorneys are also asking Gov. Deval Patrick to
provide assistance to local police departments so they can train
officers to enforce the new law fairly and uniformly across the state.
Blodgett said he has been in contact with local police departments and
will be scheduling a formal meeting shortly.

Methuen police Chief Katherine Lavigne said she is confident the state
will work everything out before the new rules take effect.

"They'll be working on that and getting back to us," Lavigne said. "We
have some time before this is implemented."

Supporters of the ballot question said the new law will spare
thousands from having a criminal record, which can make it harder to
get a job, student loan or gain access to public housing. They also
argued that taxpayers would save $30 million in costs associated with
marijuana arrests.

In written statements before the election, Blodgett said it is a myth
that first-time offenders charged with marijuana possession go to jail
and pick up criminal records in the state of Massachusetts. Under
state law, he said individuals charged with marijuana possession are
placed on probation, and upon successfully completing probation, their
records are sealed.

Thompson, Haverhill's deputy police chief, questioned why state
officials failed to invest in an advertising campaign before the
election to show the public the risks associated with approving
Question 2, chief among them that its passage could lead to more drug
abuse among young people.

"I'm disappointed the state didn't put up a fight," he

With the passage of Question 2, Massachusetts becomes the 12th state
in the country to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Lawrence, along with Braintree and Clarksburgh, were the only three
communities in the state where a majority of voters opposed the
question, and in all three instances it was voted down by a slim margin.

Overall, 60 percent of voters in the Merrimack Valley supported
decriminalizing the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana,
compared to 65 percent statewide.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin