Pubdate: Fri, 02 Jan 2009
Source: Herald News, The (Fall River, MA)
Copyright: 2009 The Herald News
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Policing - United States - News)


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.

The only ones unclear about what Question 2 intends are law
enforcement officials who act like a civil violation is some radical
idea no one ever heard of. District attorneys and police chiefs have
been acting like it was all a big misunderstanding. Question 2 
proponents "sold the public a pig in a poke, and the public bought
it," Cape and Islands DA Michael O'Keefe said last week.

The district attorneys, who opposed the ballot initiative, have asked
the Legislature to postpone implementation, which takes effect Jan.
2. They cite a long list of problems, all 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.

Police have raised the issue of extra training, which presumably
entails how to use a scale to tell if the seized marijuana weighs
over an ounce. 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. To the layperson, this sounds easy enough: If the police
have reason to believe the marijuana seized has been treated with
another illegal product, have it  tested. After all, it's evidence
that a more serious crime may have been committed.

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.

This reefer madness is spreading. The Framingham Board of Health is
worried because its 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.

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 8-page memorandum addressing the questions
raised by the new law. The state Department of Public Safety will
issue a set of guidelines thiss week.

That should settle most matters, and if Massachusetts officials have
more questions, they should consult with officials of a dozen other
states where marijuana has been a civil offense for a long time.
Beyond that, we've got a large system of courts designed for the 
expressed purpose of interpreting 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: Larry Seguin