Pubdate: Wed, 25 Aug 2010
Source: Patriot Ledger, The  (Quincy, MA)
Copyright: 2010 GateHouse Media, Inc.


Gambling may have been the vice du jour in the last legislative
session but changing attitudes toward marijuana and a flawed law
designed to regulate its use may give casinos some competition on the
trespasses agenda when the next session begins in January.

Police are justifiably frustrated with a 2-year-old pot law that is
proving to be as flimsy as rice paper and have asked the state
Legislature to fix the problem.

The law was approved by voters in 2008 and decriminalized the
possession of small amounts of marijuana. Whereas being caught with
less than an ounce of pot used to carry a maximum penalty of six
months in jail and a $500 fine, the new law established a civil fine
of $100.

But the law does not provide police with the right to request
identification or a way to force offenders to pay the fines. "If
they tell you their name is Yogi Berra or Ronald McDonald, nothing
allows for further positive identification," said New Bedford Police
Chief Ronald Teachman.

Police officials say that with most civil citations, such as speeding
tickets, there are repercussions for those who don't pay the fines.
In some cases, police can even levy criminal charges against people
who fail to pay. Not so with the new pot law.

Police are asking for legislation to strengthen their ability to
enforce the law and to require offenders identify themselves.
Meanwhile, some have stopped issuing fines and say conflicting
messages about pot use and the resulting lax enforcement are
encouraging greater use of the drug. Police officials in Quincy,
Wellesley and New Bedford have all said they've seen an increased
presence of marijuana in their communities, although they have few
hard numbers to back that up.

This issue comes at a time when we're seeing a rise in the
acceptance of marijuana. A story we ran Monday suggested more baby
boomers are lighting up. Marijuana use has tripled among 55- to
59-year-olds, according to surveys from the federal Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration. "It's out there, with
every age group ... (and) it's been in the suburbs as long as
there's been money to buy it," said Scituate police Lt. Michael
Stewart, a member of the FBI's organized crime drug enforcement
strike force. In a Ledger poll done last week, 67 percent of
participants said they supported the idea of legalizing and taxing
marijuana as they do with cigarettes and alcohol.

Many who study the trend say this reflects a growing social acceptance
of the drug. That may be, but until we decide to make it legal, the
state should make its existing laws clear and give law enforcement
officials the tools necessary to enforce them.

Dazed and confused may be an acceptable state for those who partake,
but police and the nonsmoking public shouldn't be forced to feel the
same way.
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