Pubdate: Wed, 15 Feb 2012
Source: Daily Free Press (Boston U, MA Edu)
Copyright: 2012 Back Bay Publishing, Inc.
Author: Amelia Pak-Harvey & Thea Di Giammerino 


Recent drug legislation is changing to penalize suspects who possess
less than an ounce of marijuana, making the Commonwealth's future with
medical marijuana uncertain.

Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana in 2008, ruling that suspects
caught with less than an ounce of the drug will receive a $100 fine at
the most.

But on Monday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stated people
found with any amount of the drug could still be charged with the
intent to distribute, a crime that could potentially end in jail-time
for the offender.

Following a recent appeal to a Massachusetts court about the
discrepancy in the law, the Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the 2008
ruling and found that no matter how much marijuana a person has, he or
she can still be tried with the intent to distribute.

Chief Justice Roderick Ireland acknowledged the 2008 voter-approved
statute that decriminalizes marijuana possession under an ounce, but
said it "did not repeal the offense of possession of marijuana with
intent to distribute," in his published opinion.

"As such, while the voters, through the act, made specific amendments
to the simple possession statute, the voters did not make any changes
to [the statute] concerning the crime of possession of marijuana with
intent to distribute," he said.

Under the state's Controlled Substances Act, a person who knowingly
distributes marijuana, a Class D controlled substance, can face up to
a two-year prison sentence or a maximum $5,000 fine, a sentence that
increases for more convictions.

The court also ruled the intent to distribute does not have to involve
a sale. It quoted another case in defining the intent to distribute is
a fact inferred from all the facts and circumstances of the case.

"I feel like the intent to distribute is very iffy," said Boston
University Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
freshman Madeline Alexander, adding, "I think the police officers can
use a lot of bias in their judgment depending on who they're arresting
with the pot."

The questions surrounding the drug may be indicative of the nation's
undecided stance on it.

Sixteen states, for example, currently allow their citizens to use
marijuana for medicinal purposes. Not only has this caused debate in
the other 34 states about possibly legalizing medical marijuana, it
has also posed quandaries to the states that do allow it.

California, the state with the longest history of legal medical
marijuana, has no law regulating the amounts of THC in the medical
cannabis that doctors can prescribe.

Some marijuana retailers can -- and do -- advertise the THC levels in
the different strains of the drug they sell, but the numbers are not
officially approved by the federal government, according to a LA Times
article published on Monday.

Under federal law, any sort of marijuana possession is illegal, and
this leads to gaps in the law where state regulations and federal
regulations do not meet.

For example, employers who subject their workers to random drug tests 
do not have to recognize the difference between licensed cannabis 
users and unlicensed cannabis users, said BU Professor Kabrina Chang 
in her paper, "High Risk Employment: The Management Headache over 
Medical Marijuana."

"In the states where medical marijuana is legal," she wrote, "very few
laws indicate how its use impacts employment rights."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.