We had some fun with the new decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana today. That took effect this week, accompanied with a, if you pardon, smokescreen of foolishness.
The ballot initiative passed in November, changing simple possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a crime to a civil penalty. The fine is up to $100. For those under 18, there is also a requirement that they take a drug-education course.
Despite the embarrassing Chicken Little predictions from the AG and district attorneys, enforcement of civil penalties for pot possession is pretty simple. The chief justice of the trial courts even released a detailed eight-pager telling prosecutors and police how to do it.Â In addition, the governor’s public safety folk offer a sample citation for those few police HQs that haven’t bought pads of civil citation books for other non-criminal offenses.
Lynne noted that the newspapers, from the Globe through some suburban ones picked up on the sensationalized tale of the chaos of enforcing the new penalties. Even though cops and DAs had months of warning that this ballot initiative might pass â€” and two months after it did â€” some claim to be confused and unprepared. That’s a shame-on-you for sure.
Moreover, the procedures for civil citations have been well documented since 1991, when William Weld was governor. His 35-page Guide for Non-Criminal Disposition of By-Law Enforcement doesn’t leave much to be dramatic about. In this century, the governor’s safety office also produced a FAQ for enforcers, making it all seem pretty simple with the new law.
Amusingly enough, the real iffy issue may be about an ounce, the break point for enforcement. More than an ounce remains a criminal offense. Cops can justifiably ask whether they are supposed to carry drug-dealers’ scales (and how often would those need recalibration?). However, even here, as with much of police work, common sense would have to rule. Questionable amounts could mean bringing the suspect for questioning and measuring to decide civil or criminal. No biggy, as they say.
Unfortunately for AG Martha Coakley, she has linked to the pre-election drama about the horrors to befall us if the initiative passed.Â She’s continued with dubious cries of alarm since. Those claims undercut her credibility at a time when she clearly is collection contributions in a run for higher office. It’s likely to bite her later.
Mike suspects that Coakley and some DAs are being childish about losing the ballot question. Lying to the public and press should not have been their response. Many people interviewed in the run-up to the election said they’d rather police and prosecutors went after violent criminals. A large percentage of voters seemed to be in that legal camp.
Meanwhile, prohibition didn’t work for either alcohol or pot. The alleged War on Drugs was expensive theater that didn’t reduce drug abuse either. Education seems to have modest positive effects though. Potheads do cause problems like car wrecks, though not at nearly the rate as alcohol does.
Grass doesn’t get an immediate stamp of approval as Massachusetts joins 12 other states that have decriminalized. Yet we have crossed a threshold from the room of what hasn’t worked and won’t. Let’s get real about pot. After all, that’s the law now.