Pubdate: Tue, 03 Mar 2009
Source: Daily News, The (Newburyport, MA)
Copyright: 2009 Eagle Tribune Publishing Company
Author: Frank G. Cousins Jr.
Note: Frank G. Cousins Jr. of Newburyport is sheriff of Essex  County.
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with a group of students
from Newburyport High School who were on a tour of the Middleton
House of Correction. We talked about a number of issues that dealt
with the correctional industry and the business of law enforcement.
The discussions were insightful and showed that the young people are
paying attention to the world around them.

As the visit continued, the focus of the students' questions shifted
toward my view of the voters' recent decision to diminish the
criminal penalties if someone is caught with an ounce or less of marijuana.

In the past, the potential punishment ranged from being incarcerated
for up to six months in a county jail and/or a fine up to $500. The
ballot referendum that passed in November eliminated the possibility
of being jailed and reduced the penalty to an infraction that 
carries a fine of $100. For those arrested under the age of 18, they
must complete a drug awareness program. Failure to complete the
course could increase the fine to $1,000.

What I told the students was that as a matter of public policy, the
change in the law was not a good one, and would cause more problems
than it was designed to solve. Some of the students agreed. Some did
not. Two,  in fact, were under the misguided perception that if you
get stopped with marijuana, you no longer get into trouble.

They could not have been more wrong.

While there are some who say they only "use" marijuana and should not
be criminally prosecuted if they are arrested in possession of a
small amount of the drug,  there are many more who will tell you that
marijuana was the beginning point that led to their sustained 
involvement with drugs. They will tell you it was their marijuana use
that led them to sell and use large quantities and several
combinations of illegal narcotics. I have heard these stories
countless times while at work in Middleton.

Additionally, advocates of the decriminalization measure stated prior
to the vote the new law would reduce overcrowding in the state's
county correctional facilities. That could not have been further from
the  truth. All of the Commonwealth's houses of correction are well
over their maximum housing capacities.

In today's society, I realize that popular culture -  particularly
television shows, movies and the music that these students watch and
listen to - has glamorized the use of marijuana by making it appear
to be an acceptable pursuit.

But the reality is if you use marijuana, and are arrested for the
infraction, the charge stays on your permanent record. And such a
charge may hinder your chances for employment, particularly if you
ever had  aspirations of working in law enforcement at the local, 
state or federal level.

A marijuana charge also negatively affects the way you are perceived
when you apply for other jobs. You may, for example, lose your
ability to apply for a commercial driver's license if you garner a
marijuana charge. You may also lose the chance to work for a 
particular company if that corporation requires regular drug tests
and perceives you to be a habitual user of marijuana.

The list of problems associated with marijuana use is endless.

I also reminded the students that when you become a regular marijuana
user in high school, you are looked down upon by those who do not
partake in the practice. How, if their use becomes too prevalent in
their lives, they could end up being diverted into alternative 
academic settings, away from their friends. At that point, the people
they need to impress in their lives in order to get ahead - teachers,
counselors,  administrators - will always look upon them with skepticism.

We should never have reduced the criminal penalties associated with
the possession of marijuana.

This new law sends the wrong message to our young people about the
consequences of marijuana use.

Frank G. Cousins Jr. of Newburyport is sheriff of Essex  County.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin