New Marijuana Law Shouldn't Pose Problems


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Massachusetts - On Nov. 4, a majority of voters in Massachusetts chose to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Those in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana are no longer charged with a criminal offense, but instead face a $100 fine.

Today, the new law takes effect. Yet some local police departments, as well as others across the state, say they are uncertain about how to enforce it. The state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security just Monday issued guidelines for police departments on enforcement of the law.

"We're ringing in the new year with a new law not everyone knows how to enforce," Lawrence police Chief John Romero told our reporters.

Nearly two months have passed since 65 percent of Massachusetts voters changed the law. Despite their lack of enthusiasm for the law, state and local law enforcement agencies have had time to prepare.

Under the new law, people caught with a small amount of marijuana will be forced to hand over the drug and pay a $100 fine. Those under 18 will be required to complete a drug awareness program or face a stiffer $1,000 fine. They can either pay a fine to a clerk or request a District Court hearing.

To be sure, the new law on marijuana possession does raise questions. Police are now required to issue civil citations, essentially tickets, to violators. Police have pre-printed books of citations to issue to those who violate motor vehicle laws. These are carefully worded to conform to the existing laws and explain the violator's rights and responsibilities. What should the citations for the marijuana violations say?

For some departments, the citations themselves pose no problem. Those police departments are more concerned about what happens next.

"We already have the citation paper. It's like any other civil infraction," Andover police Lt. James Hashem said. "It's what happens after, that is what's up in the air. The majority of headaches will be after the citation is issued."

Hashem said the law is ambiguous and its scope will have to be settled by the first cases that make it to the courts.

The appeal process leaves police wondering how much of their limited resources they should commit to marijuana cases.

Groveland police Chief Robert Kirmelewicz wondered if departments will still have to send all confiscated marijuana to the drug lab to be tested as if it were a criminal case.

"If this is the case, it's going to require a lot of time, money and energy for what, a $100 fine?" he said.

This should not be so difficult. Massachusetts is not the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Eleven other states have done so. Is there no experience from those states that Massachusetts law enforcement officials can draw upon?

It's apparent that the will of the voters, for good or ill, was that simple possession of marijuana should be treated as a trivial matter. Pay a small fine and be done with it. The best course for police is to enforce the law as written and expend as few resources as possible doing so.

The public doesn't see small amounts of marijuana as a problem. Neither should police.

News Hawk: PFlynn - 420 Magazine
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2008 The Eagle-Tribune
Website: Our view: New marijuana law shouldn't pose problems -, North Andover, MA
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