One would think that when 65% of Massachusetts' voters said that we approved of decriminalizing marijuana, that that would tell our elected officials all they need to know about the will of the people. But oh, no! The law is less than a month old and already municipal officials are trying to toughen the penalties.
Massachusetts joined eleven other states on January 2 when we voted to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, replacing a criminal penalty with a civil fine of $100. Almost immediately, law enforcement officers began complaining that the law was unclear and would be difficult to enforce. In particular, officers said that those offenders who were issued citations could easily give a false name. Maybe that could happen in Boston, but it certainly won't be happening in small towns and every other city where police are quite likely to know the faces of most of the population. I'm not sure what the penalty for giving a false name to the police is in Massachusetts, but why add insult to injury?
The state has already issued opinions that the new law does not mean schools must now tolerate marijuana possession in schools, and that employers can continue to forbid marijuana possession in the workplace. But a Cape Cod lawmaker, Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, plans to propose a law making three unpaid citations to possession in a one year period a criminal misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, as well as a law to make explicit the right of schools and workplaces to ban marijuana on the premises.
Apparently most lawmakers haven't caught up with the public's growing distaste for the war on drugs as it's been fought the last thirty years, because now some municipalities want to get in on the act and make their anti-drug position very clear.
Framingham's Board of Health wants to add smoking marijuana to the already in place law against smoking cigarettes in restaurants and other public places, and institute a series of fines for establishments that allow such smoking to take place.
The Methuen City Council wanted to increase fines for possession of less than an ounce of pot to $400, but compromised at $200 after public opposition.
Now , this Monday, the Springfield's City Council will consider Councilor James J. Ferrera III's proposal to make smoking marijuana in public an arrestable offense with a $300 fine (emphasis mine).
The proposal is supported by Police Commissioner William Fitchet but talk to many law enforcement officers off the record, and they'll tell you they support decriminalization of marijuana. Many want to bring the drug war to an end altogether. Members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), not all of whom are retired, make a strong case for decriminalization based on their first-hand experience.
Meanwhile I expect that a lot of law enforcement officers are not going to go out of their way to issue citations; in fact the first citation under the new law issued in Massachusetts came after a Springfield police officer arrested a man for possession of crack cocaine and illegal firearms possession.
For the first time in a number of years, we have a chance for a sensible drug policy to prevail in this country. let's hope local officials don't drag their feet.