Question Resurrects Old Debate

Question Resurrects Old Debate
Posted by CN Staff on October 27, 2008 at 11:50:45 PT
By Dan Ring
Source: Republican
Boston, MA -- Amherst town meeting member Terence J. Franklin supports a Nov. 4 ballot question that seeks to decriminalize possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, saying that use of the illegal drug is becoming more acceptable."It's become more a part of society," said Franklin, an auxiliary member of the Cannabis Reform Coalition at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, last week. "People are more familiar with it. People are more at ease with it."
But Agawam Police Chief Robert D. Campbell said that he and other chiefs in Hampden County are against the ballot question. He said that marijuana is "a gateway drug," causing many users to eventually turn to harder drugs such as cocaine.Campbell said that teenagers currently fear arrest, and that use would increase if the drug was decriminalized. "Teen drug use is down," he said. "Why would we want to send the opposite message?" A yes vote on Question 2 would decriminalize possesssion of up to one ounce of marijuana, and a no vote would keep the current laws. Under Question 2 on the statewide ballot, the criminal penalties for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana would be replaced with a new system of civil penalties enforced with citations. If the question is passed by a majority of voters, it would take effect on Dec. 4, according to the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, which placed the question on the ballot. Offenders ages 18 and above would forfeit their marijuana and would pay a civil penalty of $100. People less than 18 would be hit with the same $100 penalty and forfeiture if they complete a drug awareness program that includes 10 hours of community service and at least four hours of group discussion on preventing drug abuse. The 11 district attorneys in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police, and the state sheriffs oppose the ballot question. Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett said the state has a sensible marijuana policy.If a person is charged for the first time with possessing marijuana, he said, the charge is continued for six months without a finding and then dismissed if there are no other violations. Bennett said there is no finding of guilt, and the record is then sealed.He said the charge would not currently appear on an individual's criminal offender record information."Why does anybody want to change a system that works in terms of possession of marijuana?" Bennett asked. "The current law works well." Terrel W. Harris of the state Executive Office of Public Safety confirmed Bennett's statement. He said that a dismissed charge would not now appear on an individual's criminal offender record information. Only certain businesses - schools, camps, nursing homes, home-care providers, and youth volunteer organizations - may view dismissals and charges that ended with no convictions. Potential employers sometimes access criminal offender record information to determine whether to hire someone. Most employers may see only convictions or pending cases. Bennett said that approval of the ballot question would give "a green light" to youths to use marijuana, and to drug dealers. Supporters are optimistic that the question will be approved. "I think it is going to win for multiple reasons," said Whitney A. Taylor, the campaign manager for the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy. According to her, voters in certain Senate and House districts in Massachusetts approved 30 non-binding ballot questions in 2000-06 that mirror the current statewide question on marijuana.Voters in the 1st Hampshire District - Hatfield and Northampton - overwhelmingly approved the non-binding question on marijuana in 2004, agreeing to make possession a civil infraction.Voters in the 5th Worcester District, which includes part of Ware, Hardwick and all or parts of nine other communities, also overwhelmingly approved the non-binding ballot question in 2002.In Amherst in 2000, voters approved a non-binding referendum by 1,659 to 981 to urge state and national office-holders to repeal the prohibition of marijuana. Taylor, who has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in public policy from American University in Washington, said that opponents are using "scare tactics and lies" in an attempt to defeat the ballot question. She said that $30 million is spent each year on arresting and booking people for possessing marijuana. "That money should stay in police coffers to fight violent and serious crime," she said. Eleven states, including Maine and New York, have decriminalized possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, she noted. "It's a smart, sensible law that has proven successful in 11 other states," Taylor said. Source: Republican, The (Springfield, MA)Author: Dan RingPublished: Sunday, October 26, 2008Copyright: 2008 The RepublicanContact: letters repub.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy 2 Sides To Pot Question of Marijuana Sparks Lively Debate
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