Pubdate: Mon, 04 Mar 2013
Source: Taunton Daily Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2013 Taunton Daily Gazette
Author: Gerry Tuoti


While former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank was an outspoken advocate of
relaxing restrictions on marijuana, southeastern Massachusetts'
current representatives in Washington largely take a different
approach to the issue.

"While it is unlikely to ever reach the federal level because criminal
laws are primarily governed by the states, I would not support it at
the federal level," U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., said in a
statement provided by his office.

In recent years, though, a handful of federal legislators, including
Frank, have filed bills to decriminalize cannabis. Typically, the
bills are promptly shipped off to committee to die. Frank introduced
legislation in 2008 and 2011 to remove federal criminal penalties for
possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana and the not-for-profit
transfer of up to 1 ounce.

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., filed a proposal last month to
decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and tax it, leaving
states with the authority to regulate the drug. The bill was referred
to committee, and analysts rate its chances of being enacted as poor.

Also last month, Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer filed a House bill
that would prevent the federal government from interfering in the 19
states that have legalized medical marijuana. His bill would allow
states to legalize medical marijuana, ending the discrepancy between
state and federal regulations. That discrepancy between state and
federal law has in some cases led to federal raids of medical
marijuana dispensaries operating under state law in places such as

Blumenauer's bill is currently in committee.

In Massachusetts, freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III opposed last
year's state ballot question to permit medical marijuana.

"When you look at other states, we haven't been able to do it very
well," Kennedy said in a debate last year.

Kennedy, a former assistant district attorney in Middlesex County,
could not be reached for comment for this report, but a press aide
elaborated on the lawmaker's position.

"As a former prosecutor, Joe believes that reforms made to the
regulation of any drug must be approached carefully," Kennedy
spokeswoman Emily Browne said. "He has not supported recent,
state-level efforts to loosen restrictions around marijuana because of
serious concerns over the potential for abuse. That being said, he
does understand the relief medical marijuana can offer those suffering
from chronic illness and would take a look at any thoughtful federal
legislation to that effect."

Sampson said there are no current restrictions on where dispensaries
can be sited, or the type of advertising they are allowed to do.

"In other states, we've seen instances where they have people walking
up and down the sidewalks holding up signs to have people go inside
(the dispensaries)," Sampson said.

Somerset Police Chief Joseph C. Ferreira said he would want to see
dispensaries forced to adopt strong internal controls to prevent the
marijuana from getting out to the streets.

"I do have some indications from other states about concerns of the
security of the dispensaries, whether their alarms, security cameras
and procedures to hire proper personnel are appropriate," Ferreira

Whenever new laws are enacted, there is always potential for abuse,
and police officers will need to investigate criminal cases as they
present themselves, said Fall River Police Capt. Michael Duarte.

"As a modern, professional law-enforcement organization, we're
cognizant of the fact that the law is ever-changing, and we have to be
amenable to those changes," Duarte said.

The Fall River Police Department has studied the medical marijuana
issue in weekly command staff meetings and daily roll call. Duarte
said he is crafting a training bulletin for officers that will explain
the new law.

"We're waiting to see what DPH comes out with the regulations. We will
then make adjustments accordingly," Duarte said, adding that the
department went through a similar process when voters decriminalized
small amounts of marijuana - one ounce or less - in a 2008 ballot 

Duarte said the decriminalization had a "minimal impact" on policing,
noting that the Fall River Police Department averages between 5,000 to
6,000 arrests a year, with only 60 to 70 citations for possession of
one ounce or less of marijuana.

However, key important questions remain with the new law, which allows
people or their caregivers, with a doctor's permission, to grow
marijuana at home until the dispensaries are up and running. Duarte
said there is no current mechanism that allows police to be notified
of who is growing marijuana at their home.

"All these home growers is going to be a massive problem for law
enforcement," Sampson added.

There are also unintended consequences. Could commercial drivers - who
are prohibited by law from using controlled substances - lose their
licenses if they obtain a prescription from medical marijuana? Police
officers and civilians can lose their firearm licenses if they use
drugs, but does that pertain to medical marijuana?

Duarte said the Fall River Police Department is formulating a policy
to address officers' use of medical marijuana. The policy will be
reviewed at a later date with the city's legal department, Duarte said.

In Somerset, Chief Ferreira said he could not imagine allowing police
officers to use medical marijuana.

"I don't think you can be a police officer at that point," Ferreira
said. "That's my opinion, but I guess we have to see what the courts
have to say moving forward."

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson said he does not object to
medical marijuana provided that it is regulated and "justified on
sound medical research."

"You're always going to find abuses, just look at Percocets and
Oxycontin," Hodgson said. "I think if we're going to be concerned
about drugs and how they impact and ruin lives, then we need to make
sure this is done the right way."
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