Pubdate: Thu, 18 Dec 2008
Source: Daily News Tribune (Waltham, MA)
Copyright: 2008 GateHouse Media, Inc.
Author: Rebecca Hyman, GateHouse News Service
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


Bridgewater -- The chief of the Bridgewater State College Police
Department would like to get the word out - marijuana has not been

It's not open the floodgates time. We will be enforcing the law,"
Police Chief David Tillinghast said.

He said he's heard from multiple students there's a widespread
misperception on campus the Nov. 4 ballot initiative decriminalizing
possession of up to an ounce of marijuana legalized the drug. The
difference is more than just academic, Tillinghast said.

The law replaced the previous criminal offense with a civil offense.
Once the new law goes into effect on Jan. 2, people caught with up to
an ounce of pot will be subject to a $100 fine instead of an arrest.

It may just be bravado, but we've heard we'll be seeing smoking
parties on the quadrangle," Tillinghast said.

Tillinghast said that's not going to happen. His officers will be out
issuing citations and, if someone is caught with more than an ounce of
marijuana, making arrests.

Tillinghast said he's determined to enforce the new law, but it
presents significant challenges, philosophical considerations about
its wisdom aside.

When the law was passed by the electorate, we had nothing but
questions about how it would work," he said.

A big concern is how officers will know whether a suspect possesses
more than an ounce of marijuana. Some people have suggested police
carry a scale around with them, but Tillinghast said that would be
cumbersome and awkward.

He prefers the option of training officers to recognize what an ounce
looks like. But no training is yet in place on a state level.

Another concern is who will design and print up the citations. The law
makes no mention of this. Bridgewater Police Lt. Christopher Delmonte
said it doesn't make sense to have each department print its own. They
should be uniform.

Another concern, the law only mentions municipal police departments,
not state police, college police, environmental police or transit
police, Tillinghast said.

It begs the question, 'Are we included?' It looked at first that it
would be unenforceable by us, which would result in an absurdity,"
Tillinghast said.

But Tillinghast said he's since heard tentatively and informally from
the Attorney General's Office and the Office of Public Safety that
they interpret the law as including all police departments in the state.

Tillinghast said even though the law doesn't legalize marijuana,
there's no debating it's a big change.

His department makes dozens of marijuana arrests a year, he said. The
vast majority of those are for possession of much less than an ounce,
two or three joints, he said. Those will now be civil offenses.

He wonders if the average voter realized that an ounce of marijuana
translates to about 50 joints with a street value of about $600. It's
far more than what one might expect for "personal use," he said.

I think a lot of people we previously thought of as drug dealers will
be let off with this new law," he said.

Another gray area is how the law will affect the college's internal
disciplinary measures. If students are found in possession of
marijuana, they are subject to disciplinary action, anywhere from
probation to expulsion, depending on the situation.

The new law says the commonwealth may not institute any other
penalties besides the ones that the law sets forth. But state colleges
are subsidiaries of the state.

It throws into question the college's own disciplinary policy,"
Tillinghast said.

Beyond the enforcement challenges, Tillinghast said he's worried about
the effects the law will have on the campus and the students entrusted
to his care.

I have to enforce the law no matter what it is. That's my duty. But
that doesn't mean when it comes to influencing public policy I can't
point to some of its shortcomings," he said.

Tillinghast said he's seen students turn their lives around after a
marijuana arrest. It's a "wake-up call," he said.

If you lack the ability to arrest someone, you're not taking them out
of the situation. It's one of the most important tools we have," he

He'd like to see the law at least tweaked to lower the amount of
marijuana that counts as a criminal offense and include a provision
for repeat offenders. As it stands, it appears a person could receive
an unlimited number of citations, Tillinghast said.

Delmonte said the town's police department faces similar enforcement
challenges. He said the law does not seem to have "anticipated or
accounted for" the nuts and bolts of implementation.

We're not the only ones struggling with this. Other cities and towns
are and the state Legislature is as well," Delmonte said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake