Pubdate: Fri, 09 Jan 2009
Source: Daily News, The (Newburyport, MA)
Copyright: 2009 Eagle Tribune Publishing Company
Author: Sabrina Cardin
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


NEWBURYPORT - Police have started issuing $100 tickets to people caught
smoking marijuana, but city officials are considering a tougher local
ordinance that would add significantly higher fines for smoking marijuana
in a public place.

Since the law went into effect Jan. 2 decriminalizing the use of
marijuana, seven citations have been issued in Newburyport. The city's
first tickets came on Jan. 2 when three teens under 16 in a car were
issued citations. Three days later, on Jan. 5, two 17-year-olds and two
18-year-olds were cited for smoking in a parked car behind a Newburyport
Mobil station.

Under the new law, towns and cities can only give citations for anyone
caught with under an ounce of marijuana. For violators 18 and older, the
citation is $100. Violators 17 and younger are issued the $100 citation,
their guardian or parent is informed, and the violator is required to
complete a drug awareness program.

For Lt. Rick Seimasko of the Newburyport Police Department and other
officials, the law's flaw does not lie in the ticketing but in public
consumption and how much an ounce of marijuana really is.

Currently the offense of public consumption of marijuana is only
punishable by the civil citation, leaving the possibility that someone
could casually smoke on State Street with their morning coffee and face
only the $100 citation.

But some communities - with Framingham taking the lead - are attempting to
apply the same laws to marijuana that are currently applied to tobacco. In
that town, smoking is banned in public; those caught face a $50 fine, and
if the smoking occurs in a business it is fine up to $300 and faces loss
of its town licenses.

Early this week the Massachusetts Executive Department of Public Safety
and Security provided the Newburyport Police Department with an ordinance
draft regarding public consumption of marijuana. The draft calls for a ban
of smoking in public places, with a $300 fine.

"I want to see an ordinance go through quickly," Seimasko said. "But it's
really up to the councilors to draft it and send it to the Public Safety

Newburyport City Councilor Steve Hutcheson received an outline for a state
suggested ordinance two days ago. When asked what he thought about it, he
said he needed to speak with Lt. Seimasko and get a further understanding
on the ordinance.

"I don't want to change what voters did back in November," Hutcheson said.

City Council President James Shanley also received a copy of the suggested
ordinance. At press time, he declined comment on the draft, saying he
wanted to comment after it went past the draft phase.

"The thing I find distressing is the general law does not have severe
fines for public consumption," Seimasko said. "I hope the city makes
public smoking consequences more severe than public drinking."

Attorney Steve Epstein of Georgetown has been a longtime supporter of the
decriminalization of marijuana. He believes the $100 citation is enough to
deter locals from smoking in public.

"Unless you are a millionaire, the citation should be enough," Epstein
said. "The $100 is sufficient, especially in Newburyport, because there is
such a large police presence."

Under the new law, possession is the only marijuana law that has been
altered. Operating under the influence of drugs and intent to distribute
remain the same. In the past, police departments were able to use
offenders to catch others through plea bargains, but with the new citation
process, Seimasko said there could be a communication breakdown.

"I find it unfortunate that Massachusetts is getting soft on drugs,"
Seimasko said. "People smuggling drugs is a violent profession. Law
enforcement officers are dying to enforce drug laws, and I find it
unfortunate Newburyport is getting soft on drugs."

The officers fear the current $100 citation for smoking in public is not
severe enough.

"I think it's something that should be controlled," said Sgt. Steve
Chaisson of the Newburyport Police Department. "The people have spoken,
but I feel smoking in public is just wrong. Marijuana is a gateway drug no
matter what people say."
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