Majority Agrees That Some Users Unduly Punished

Majority Agrees That Some Users Unduly Punished
Posted by CN Staff on November 09, 2008 at 08:53:58 PT
By John P. Kelly
Source: Enterprise
Boston, MA -- The district attorney and the head of the group that pushed Massachusetts voters to overwhelmingly back a huge reduction in the penalty for marijuana possession don’t agree on a lot of things.One thing on which they do agree: Voters bought the argument that kids and adults caught with marijuana are unfairly burdened under the present law, which can saddle them with a criminal record for the rest of their lives.
Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating said that perception is, in fact, a myth, no matter what voters believed. Most first-time offenders, he said, have their cases dismissed before arraignment.Whitney Taylor is chairwoman of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, the group largely responsible for passage this past week of the ballot question that will reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a ticket and a $100 fine. Taylor argued the punishments under the existing law have prevented respectable people from getting jobs, school loans or custody of their children.“The current law does more harm than good,” she said in a post-election interview.Statewide, 64 percent — nearly 2 million people — voted Tuesday to change the marijuana law, a level that exceeded even President-elect Barack Obama’s support in the state. The measure won the support of a majority of voters in every South Shore town except Braintree, where 52 percent voted against reducing the penalty.The new law takes effect 30 days after being reported to the Governor’s Council in November or December. It makes possession of under an ounce of marijuana punishable by a $100 civil fine. Those caught will no longer be reported to the state’s Criminal History Board.Proponents said the broad support proves there is widespread belief – not only among marijuana smokers – that criminal penalties for personally using the drug are too harsh, and that people caught with small amounts of marijuana are unfairly haunted later. The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, with about 500 volunteers, alone spent $1 million to persuade voters.“Police should focus on victim crimes,” said John Leonard of Hingham, a 51-year-old who acknowledged smoking marijuana on occasion.Hanover High School Principal Thomas Raab said the impact of the vote is dangerous, especially for young people who might interpret popular support for decriminalization as proof that marijuana is harmless.“It’s a very poor message,” Raab said.Law enforcement officials say the vote marks a step back in the fight against drugs.“Will it exacerbate our drug problem? Yes,” said Lt. John McDonough, head of the Quincy Police Department’s drug control unit.District Attorney Keating said police will be hard-pressed to enforce the new law as proposed. Without stricter identification laws, people caught with marijuana could simply give an officer a fake name and deny having identification.“What are police going to do?” he said.McDonough said his detectives are unlikely to issue the civil tickets often to people caught with marijuana.“They’ll pop the top and pour it out,” McDonough said. “It takes half an hour to tag it as evidence. Why tie up the lab for something that’s not a crime?”Bill Downing, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, applauded the vote’s outcome, saying current laws disproportionately hurt minorities in low-income areas.“Sure, if you’re a suburban honkey, then yeah, they’ll divert you,” Downing said. “But if you’re a black kid from a high-enforcement area, you get a criminal record.”Decriminalization proponents say the state will save $30 million in annual criminal justice costs.Source: Enterprise, The (MA)Author: John P. KellyPublished: November 8, 2008Copyright: 2008 GateHouse Media Inc.Contact: letters enterprisenews.comURL: Articles & Web Sites:MassCann for Sensible Marijuana Policy and DA's Not Sure How To Proceed Law Advocates Seek Wider Change
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on November 09, 2008 at 09:29:56 PT
Marijuana Law Advocates Aim for Federal Change
November 9, 2008BOSTON — With a big win at the state level behind them, advocates for marijuana decriminalization are aiming for changes in federal law.On Tuesday, Massachusetts voters approved a law that punishes people who are caught with less than an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine, rather than criminal penalty.Now local advocates point to a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, which would decriminalize possession of marijuana in amounts of 3.5 ounces or less anywhere in the country.Keith Stroup of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said he hopes the bill can lead to hearings and spark more support from lawmakers.But Frank told The Boston Globe that he does not see his bill passing anytime soon because his fellow lawmakers aren't yet ready to take a stand on the issue.Copyright: 2008 Associated Press
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Comment #1 posted by NikoKun on November 09, 2008 at 09:05:16 PT
first-time offenders... blah blah...
The opposition always tries to claim "first-time offenders" don't get punished much... BUT do they care to mention repeat-offenders?It is not so much the first-time offenders that the law hurts, sure... But when you are a repeat-offender, even just in youth, the law comes down hard and ruins your future, for the rest of your life.
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