Pubdate: Fri, 2 Jan 2009
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2009 The Eagle-Tribune


On Nov. 4, a majority of voters in Massachusetts chose to
decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Those in
possession of less than an ounce of marijuana are no longer charged
with a criminal offense, but instead face a $100 fine.

Today, the new law takes effect. Yet some local police departments, as
well as others across the state, say they are uncertain about how to
enforce it. The state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security
just Monday issued guidelines for police departments on enforcement of
the law.

"We're ringing in the new year with a new law not everyone knows how
to enforce," Lawrence police Chief John Romero told our reporters.

Nearly two months have passed since 65 percent of Massachusetts voters
changed the law. Despite their lack of enthusiasm for the law, state
and local law enforcement agencies have had time to prepare.

Under the new law, people caught with a small amount of marijuana will
be forced to hand over the drug and pay a $100 fine. Those under 18
will be required to complete a drug awareness program or face a
stiffer $1,000 fine. They can either pay a fine to a clerk or request
a District Court hearing.

To be sure, the new law on marijuana possession does raise questions.
Police are now required to issue civil citations, essentially tickets,
to violators. Police have pre-printed books of citations to issue to
those who violate motor vehicle laws. These are carefully worded to
conform to the existing laws and explain the violator's rights and
responsibilities. What should the citations for the marijuana
violations say?

For some departments, the citations themselves pose no problem. Those
police departments are more concerned about what happens next.

"We already have the citation paper. It's like any other civil
infraction," Andover police Lt. James Hashem said. "It's what happens
after, that is what's up in the air. The majority of headaches will be
after the citation is issued."

Hashem said the law is ambiguous and its scope will have to be settled
by the first cases that make it to the courts.

The appeal process leaves police wondering how much of their limited
resources they should commit to marijuana cases.

Groveland police Chief Robert Kirmelewicz wondered if departments will
still have to send all confiscated marijuana to the drug lab to be
tested as if it were a criminal case.

"If this is the case, it's going to require a lot of time, money and
energy for what, a $100 fine?" he said.

This should not be so difficult. Massachusetts is not the first state
to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Eleven
other states have done so. Is there no experience from those states
that Massachusetts law enforcement officials can draw upon?

It's apparent that the will of the voters, for good or ill, was that
simple possession of marijuana should be treated as a trivial matter.
Pay a small fine and be done with it. The best course for police is to
enforce the law as written and expend as few resources as possible
doing so.

The public doesn't see small amounts of marijuana as a problem.
Neither should police. 
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