Pubdate: Mon, 15 Nov 2010
Source: Boston Herald (MA)
Copyright: 2010 The Boston Herald, Inc
Authors: Laurel J. Sweet and Ryan Johnson
Photo: BIG TIME: Nantucket police recovered 107 marijuana plants in 
two separate areas over the summer. [Photo by Nantucket PD]
Bookmark: (Massachusetts)


Since recreational marijuana use was decriminalized in Massachusetts 
last year, pot-related trafficking and violence have escalated across 
the state, frustrated law enforcement officials tell the Herald.

Smoking weed is not a victimless crime, they say.

"We knew it was going to be a nightmare for public safety and law 
enforcement. An ounce of marijuana can make a thousand joints," 
Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. said. "Question 2 
perpetuated a feeling that marijuana is somehow safer than other 
drugs. It's another mind-altering substance. What are we doing in 
this country? Can't anyone get through the day without a drink or a drug?"

In November 2008, by nearly 2 to 1, Bay Staters voted to snuff out 
the threat of jail time for possession of an ounce or less of 
cannabis in favor of a $100 civil fine, proceeds from which are 
intended to puff up city and town coffers. The law, however, provides 
no enforcement mechanism for police to collect the money. Stiffer 
penalties for buying or selling the drug, or possessing more than an 
ounce, remain in place.

"Marijuana trafficking is no different from the wholesale 
distribution of any illicit substance. It's accompanied by guns and 
violence in the short term and it floods communities with illegal 
drugs in the long term. It threatens public safety and public 
health," said Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley. He said his 
open trafficking cases -- dealing in 50 pounds of pot or more -- have 
hit a historic high since the passage of Question 2 by doubling from 
roughly two prosecutions at any one time to four.

Several recent high-profile killings have been linked by law 
enforcement to pot, including:

.  The Sept. 30 fatal shooting of Adam Coveney, 29, of Waltham. Four 
men, including a Newton North High School senior, have been charged 
in connection with the alleged dealer robbery and murder.

.  The Sept. 28 massacre of four people in Mattapan -- among them, a 
21-year-old woman and her 2-year-old son -- allegedly in a 
pot-dealing turf dispute.

.  The May 2009 fatal shooting of Justin Cosby, 21, inside a Harvard 
University dorm, allegedly in a bid to rob him of pot and cash.

.  The June 2009 murder of Tyriffe Lewis, 17, in Callahan State Park 
in Framingham, where prosecutors say he was lured by two men seeking 
revenge in a fight over marijuana.

In Boston, where one of the most shocking mass killings in recent 
city history was pot-related, police Commissioner Edward Davis blames 
drugs in general for surging violence -- 65 murders compared to 44 
last year at this time. Of Question 2, he said, "I can tell you I'm 
concerned. I wish we had gone another way in Massachusetts."

But Mike Meno of the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project, which 
helped push Question 2, faults partial decriminalization for the 
violence: "If they're worried about the criminal element, the answer 
is to end the criminalization of marijuana and regulate it like 
alcohol. Marijuana is not going away. Anyone who believes that is 
naive. It's used by millions of Americans."

Leone said he fears decriminalization has created a booming "cottage 
industry" for dope dealers to target youths no longer fearing the 
stigma of arrest or how getting high could affect their already dicey 
driving. Leone's combined distribution and trafficking caseload rose 
from 445 in 2008 to 464 in 2009. This year's caseload stood at 422 as 
of last week, on track to match or exceed last year.

Leone, who is handling the Framingham, Waltham and Cambridge murder 
cases, said, "What we're seeing now is an unfortunate and totally 
predictable outcome. It's a cash-and-carry business." With more 
small-time dealers operating, he said, turf encroachment is 
inevitable. "That tends to make drug dealers angry."

In Essex County, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said his 
marijuana trafficking case load jumped from three in 2007 and one in 
2008 to eight in 2009.

"It's a dangerous business," Blodgett said. "We've had arrests of 
people who've never been involved in trafficking before but got 
involved in the game. And whenever that happens, there's going to be violence."

Wellesley Deputy Police Chief William Brooks III, speaking on behalf 
of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said, "The whole 
thing is a mess. The perception out there among a lot of people is 
it's OK to do it now, so there's an uptick in the number of people 
wanting to do it. . . . Most of the drug-related violence you see now 
- -- the shootings, the murders -- is about weed."
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