Pubdate: Sun, 15 May 2011
Source: Metrowest Daily News (MA)
Copyright: 2011 MetroWest Daily News
Author: Rick Holmes, opinion editor
Bookmark: (Massachusetts)


Puritanism, H.L. Mencken wrote, is "the haunting fear that someone, 
somewhere, may be happy." In a state founded by Puritans, that spirit 
lives on, if not in the minds of most citizens, at least in their government.

Even in the 21st century, in a land that celebrates personal freedom 
and the breaking of boundaries, Massachusetts police, prosecutors and 
pols still act like guardians of public virtue.

Exhibit A: Gov. Deval Patrick is leading an effort to punish people 
for their snacking choices. He wants to take away the sales tax 
exemption for some foods - sugary drinks and candy - which, consumed 
in excess, make some people fat. Go for the healthy munchies and 
drinks - or pay.

Exhibit B: Attorney General Martha Coakley, leading legislators and 
district attorneys have decided that what Massachusetts really needs 
is an all-out offensive against prostitution.

They are proposing a new crime: "human trafficking for sexual 
servitude," which would allow convicted pimps, madams, or anyone else 
facilitating the exchange of sex for money to be imprisoned for up to 
20 years on the first offense, with a mandatory 10 years in the pen 
if convicted a second time.

The 20-year sentence would also apply to anyone who recruits someone 
to engage in a "sexually-explicit performance." If you're planning a 
batchelor party, better do it soon, since this law would empower 
Coakley to shut down the "gentlemen's clubs" and hire-a-stripper operations.

The proposed law considers prostitutes the "victims" of prostitution, 
so it doubles the sentence for their customers. "Whoever pays, agrees 
to pay, or offers to pay another person" for sex can be sentenced to 
up to 2 1/2 years in jail and a $5,000 fine, "whether such sexual 
conduct occurs or not."

Coakley stresses the victimization of children by sex traffickers, 
and there are higher penalties - appropriately, I think - for 
exploiting anyone under 18. Maybe there should be new programs or 
laws targeting those who bring girls from overseas and keep them as sex slaves.

I know little about this beyond what I've read, but if you Google 
"escorts Massachusetts" you get more than 5 million Internet 
mentions, including websites from agencies with names like "I'm 
Temporarily Yours," "Asian Delight" and "Exxoticexpress" that don't 
sound coy about the services they offer. Personal ads, online or on 
old-fashioned newsprint, indicate there are lots of consenting 
Massachusetts adults engaging in the business of pleasure.

Well, we can't have that, can we? Here in the land of the Puritans, 
there are some pursuits of happiness the authorities will not abide.

Exhibit C: In 2008, Massachusetts voters said simple possession of 
small amounts of marijuana shouldn't be a crime. By a margin of 
almost two-to-one, they changed the law so that adults caught with 
less than an ounce of weed would be subject to a civil fine of $100.

Police and prosecutors didn't like Question 2 before it passed, and 
have been grousing about it ever since. Hassling pot smokers is such 
a habit with police that it took a recent Supreme Judicial Court 
ruling to remind them that "the faint smell of burnt marijuana" was 
not sufficient evidence of a crime to justify searching a vehicle.

Given the attitude expressed by voters, you might have thought the 
two small marijuana plants found this week in the closet of a 
Marlborough couple's apartment would be no big deal. Cut and dried, 
the plants probably would have weighed less than an ounce, punishable 
by a $100 fine. By growing their own, the couple avoided moral 
complicity with violent druglords or other illicit activity.

But a maintenance worker looking for a leaky pipe dropped a dime on 
the couple, and the Marlborough police came running. They saw the 
fluorescent lights inside a foil-lined closet as evidence of a 
criminal act, and hit the pair with a criminal charge: manufacturing 
and cultivating a Class D substance.

Now, instead of a $100 civil violation, the couple faces fines of up 
to $5,000 and as much as two years in jail. Not to mention their 
lawyer's bills.

One referendum apparently isn't enough to send police a message. In 
2003, Seattle voters took it a step further, enacting a law that said 
city police and prosecutors must make adult use of marijuana their 
"lowest law enforcement priority."

Voters may have to send a stronger message here, because despite the 
earnest efforts of police and politicians, Bay State citizens keep 
drinking soda, eating candy, smoking pot and having sex. And despite 
the liberal leanings of the electorate, our modern-day Puritans can't 
seem to stop themselves from intervening when someone, somewhere is 
having fun.  
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake