The voters of Massachusetts spoke clearly Nov. 4 on the topic of marijuana: They want simple possession treated as a civil infraction, more like a parking ticket than a serious crime, with a maximum fine of $100. Other laws involving marijuana stay in place, and those under 18 caught with less than an ounce of pot are required to attend a drug-education course as well as pay the fine.
The only ones unclear about what Question 2 intends are law enforcement officials who act like a civil violation is some radical idea no one ever heard of. District attorneys and police chiefs have been acting like it was all a big misunderstanding. Question 2 proponents “sold the public a pig in a poke, and the public bought it,” Cape and Islands DA Michael O’Keefe said last week.
The district attorneys, who opposed the ballot initiative, have asked the Legislature to postpone implementation, which takes effect Jan. 2. They cite a long list of problems, all of which sound easily surmountable. Who’ll print up the tickets? Who will design the drug education course? What if a young violator doesn’t show up for the course and doesn’t pay the $1,000 fine?
Some of the questions are just silly. Berkshire County DA David Capeless asked if chiefs can discipline officers who light up a joint on their way out the door. Of course: with a $100 fine and whatever punishment department policies establish.
Police have raised the issue of extra training, which presumably entails how to use a scale to tell if the seized marijuana weighs over an ounce. They have raised the issue of whether this means the state’s two crime labs won’t do tests on seized marijuana less than an ounce. To the layperson, this sounds easy enough: If the police have reason to believe the marijuana seized has been treated with another illegal product, have it tested. After all, it’s evidence that a more serious crime may have been committed.
But there’s no need to test every sample of regular marijuana. Besides, if they are testing every bag of pot seized, whether suspicious or not, that may be one reason the crime labs are constantly backed up – and the first sign that Question 2 can save the taxpayers money.
This reefer madness is spreading. The Framingham Board of Health is worried because its ban on smoking in bars and restaurants only applies to tobacco. What’s to stop someone from firing up a joint in a restaurant? Well, how about the prospect of getting kicked out of the restaurant and fined $100?
School officials have raised objections as well, wondering if the new law prevents them from suspending students caught with marijuana. But there’s no mention of schools in Question 2, which amends the criminal statute, not the school handbook.
The public’s response to the educators, police and prosecutors should be simple: You’re the professionals; work it out.
That’s what’s happening. Last week, the chief justice of the state district courts, issued an 8-page memorandum addressing the questions raised by the new law. The state Department of Public Safety will issue a set of guidelines thiss week.
That should settle most matters, and if Massachusetts officials have more questions, they should consult with officials of a dozen other states where marijuana has been a civil offense for a long time. Beyond that, we’ve got a large system of courts designed for the expressed purpose of interpreting laws.
Take the next adult caught with a thimble-full of pot to court if necessary. But don’t take this issue back to a Legislature which has ducked all questions of drug policy for decades. The campaign is over and the voters have spoken.
– Article from The Enterprise.