Pubdate: Fri, 2 Jan 2009
Source: Patriot Ledger, The  (Quincy, MA)
Copyright: 2009 GateHouse Media, Inc.


QUINCY - The voters of Massachusetts spoke clearly Nov. 4 on the topic
of marijuana: They want simple possession treated as a civil
infraction, more like a parking ticket than a serious crime, with a
maximum fine of $100. Other laws involving marijuana stay in place,
and those under 18 caught with less than an ounce of pot are required
to attend a drug-education course as well as pay the fine.

But as the new law goes into effect today, one thing is becoming
clear: There's nothing simple or clear about the law.

Among those unclear about what Question 2 intends are law enforcement
officials. Question 2 proponents "sold the public a pig in a poke, and
the public bought it," Cape and Islands DA Michael O'Keefe said recently.

The district attorneys, who opposed the ballot initiative, cite a long
list of problems, some of which sound easily surmountable. Who'll
print up the tickets? Who will design the drug education course? What
if a young violator doesn't show up for the course and doesn't pay the
$1,000 fine?

Some of the questions are just silly. Berkshire County DA David
Capeless asked if chiefs can discipline officers who light up a joint
on their way out the door. Of course: with a $100 fine and whatever
punishment department policies establish.

Some boards of health are worried because the ban on smoking in bars
and restaurants only applies to tobacco. What's to stop someone from
firing up a joint in a restaurant? Well, how about the prospect of
getting kicked out of the restaurant and fined $100?

School officials have raised objections as well, wondering if the new
law prevents them from suspending students caught with marijuana, but
there's no mention of schools in Question 2, which amends the criminal
statute, not the school handbook.

Some questions, though, are valid, such as whether possession of less
than an ounce of hashish, which contains the drug THC exempted in the
new law, is a crime or a civil infraction.

Police have raised the issue of extra training. They have raised the
issue of whether this means the state's two crime labs won't do tests
on seized marijuana less than an ounce.

But there's no need to test every sample of regular marijuana.
Besides, if they are testing every bag of pot seized, whether
suspicious or not, that may be one reason the crime labs are
constantly backed up - and the first sign that Question 2 can save the
taxpayers money.

The public's response to the educators, police and prosecutors should
be simple: You're the professionals; work it out.

That's what's happening. Last week, the chief justice of the state
district courts issued an eight-page memorandum addressing the
questions raised by the new law. The state Executive Office of Public
Safety issued a set of guidelines this week.

Among those guidelines, which raised the prospect of the hashish
possession, are an encouragement to cities and towns to pass
ordinances or bylaws banning the public use of marijuana, until now an
unnecessary step because possessing any amount of marijuana was illegal.

Attorney General Martha Coakley has prepared a sample bylaw that would
punish public pot smokers with an additional $300 fine and the
possibility of being charged with a misdemeanor crime.

That should settle most matters, and beyond that, we've got a large
system of courts designed to interpret laws.

Take the next adult caught with a thimble-full of pot to court if
necessary. But don't take this issue back to a Legislature which has
ducked all questions of drug policy for decades. The campaign is over
and the voters have spoken. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake