From The Salem (Mass.) News, Jan. 2
On Nov. 4, a majority of voters in Massachusetts chose to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Those with 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 police departments across the state say they are uncertain how to enforce it. The state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security just Monday issued guidelines for enforcement of the law.
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 does raise questions. Police are now required to issue civil citations, essentially tickets, to violators. Police have 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.
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..”
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 time 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?
The public doesn’t see small amounts of marijuana as a problem. Neither should police.