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


Local police say they expect last week's vote to ease marijuana laws
in Massachusetts will have an impact on this side of the border as
well - they just aren't sure what it will be.

"Anytime we talk about the decriminalization of a drug, I'm sure it
will affect how we do business," Salem police Capt. Shawn Patten said.
"We're just not sure how yet."

More than 2 million Massachusetts voters supported Question 2, which
called for the decriminalization 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

Pelham police Lt. Gary Fisher said the changes to Massachusetts law
won't directly affect how his department operates. But he speculated
that the town could begin to see more marijuana in small quantities.

"We may find more people possessing less than an ounce, but there's no
way of telling that until it starts to happen," he said.

A similar measure to decriminalize the possession of up to a quarter
of an ounce of marijuana was approved by the New Hampshire House of
Representatives earlier this year. But it was shot down by the Senate
in May.

Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, who supported the bill, said he expects
the matter to come up again in the future, especially given what
happened in the Bay State last week.

"New Hampshire still needs to take a look at that," he said. "I think
Massachusetts will be a test case, and we will look at the results
before bringing forth any legislation."

Already, Massachusetts police say they are concerned that the new,
weaker marijuana laws will lead to increased drug use.

Groveland, Mass., police Chief Robert Kirmelewicz said he fears 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."

Haverhill, Mass. Deputy police Chief Donald Thompson said 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

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.

Until that time, possession of any amount of marijuana is still a
criminal offense, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha
Coakley, who is working to determine 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 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 law.

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, Mass., 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 of people 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.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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