Pot Law Leaves Rule Very Fuzzy

  Pot Law Leaves Rule Very Fuzzy

Posted by CN Staff on January 02, 2009 at 05:22:25 PT
By Karen Nugent, Telegram & Gazette Staff 
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette 

Massachusetts -- Using a strict interpretation of the new state marijuana law, it’s OK for a police officer to light up a joint in a cruiser — but the same officer could be fired for smoking a cigarette in that cruiser. Officers hired in Massachusetts after 1990 are not allowed to use tobacco products. The new marijuana law, approved by state ballot referendum in the November election, not only decriminalizes marijuana, it makes it illegal for prospective employers — including police and school departments — to discriminate against those who possess less than an ounce of the substance because, as of today, it is a civil offense not subject to hiring rules.
The new law carries a $100 fine which can be appealed in court like a parking or minor traffic violation citation. “An officer in uniform, in a cruiser, can smoke a joint under this law,” said John M. Collins, legal counsel to the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. “Now, I know that’s silly and it won’t happen, but that’s the way this legislation is written.”  Mr. Collins acknowledged that driving under the influence of marijuana is still a criminal offense, but it is impossible, he said, to determine how much someone has consumed. Unlike alcohol, urine and blood testing does not quantitate how much THC, the active component in marijuana, is present in someone’s body. The new law also decriminalizes possessing less than an ounce of hashish or hash oil, both of which have more concentrated amounts of THC. “It’s just not going to be enforceable,” Mr. Collins said. Several other aspects of the law, which went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today, have local police chiefs baffled. “The people have spoken, but they did not know the consequences of this,” said Mark R. Laverdure, Clinton’s police chief. “There is going to be a lot of confusion.” “There are a lot of unknowns,” agreed Leominster Chief Peter F. Roddy. “It’s going to take a while to straighten this out. There are a lot of unintended consequences with this law.” Auburn Police Chief Andrew J. Sluckis Jr. said yesterday he’s not confused by the law — he just thinks it’s the worst law ever enacted in Massachusetts. “It’s a complete train wreck on our hands, and I’m not sure how anyone’s going to put that train back on track.” Chief Sluckis said there is no provision in the law requiring alleged violators to provide their name and address to police. Unlike a motor vehicle violation, he said, where officers can arrest someone for not providing their name or giving a fake name, there is no recourse under a civil violation. Those questioned for civil violations are not required to provide identification. “Say I get a call that someone is smoking marijuana in front of the Auburn Mall. We go over there, and the guy says he’s Bob Johnson from Cambridge. ‘What’s your address in Cambridge?’ ‘I forget.’ That’s it. Legally, he does not have to give his name or address,” the chief said. Therefore, Chief Sluckis said, until the law is made enforceable, he is telling his officers to confiscate marijuana of less than an ounce, and send the alleged offenders on their way. He thinks the law is going to lead to more marijuana-related car accidents and more public use of the drug. Mr. Collins said that while the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security offered some guidelines this week, there are many gray areas. Besides screening employees, applicants for firearms licenses who have received a civil fine cannot be denied on that basis. Sudbury Police Chief Peter F. Fadgen said he is concerned about prospective pistol permit applicants who use marijuana. As it stands, there are ways to check if someone abuses alcohol — through hospitals and treatment programs, and if the applicant is known to police. If someone gets a $100 civil fine under the new law, it cannot be used to deny a permit. “It’s impossible for me to use these citations as disqualification for a permit or a job,” he said. To further complicate matters, Chief Fadgen said, federal laws disqualify firearms license applicants if they have been convicted of possessing the same amount of marijuana now considered a civil offense here. Chief Fadgen also questioned the amount of marijuana allowed under the civil fine. “An ounce is about 60 joints. That’s too large an amount. This law was ill-conceived, and not thought out at all. All of these issues were not addressed — and we’re stuck with it now.” Chief Roddy, in Leominster, noted that while the law intended to take the stigma off those who use small amounts of marijuana and not cause problems with school or future employment, there is practically nobody in jail for possession of less than an ounce. Chief Roddy said he has concerns about hiring municipal employees, including teachers and bus drivers, because screening for marijuana use won’t really mean anything now. “It’s all tossed up in the air, and it’s going to take a while to straighten out,” he said. Chief Sluckis said the Legislature could have chosen to not enact the referendum, as it has done on others, including the income tax rollback approved by voters in 2000. Gregory I. Massing, general counsel for the state public safety office, said seven pages of guidelines, which are nonbinding, were issued by the office on Monday to help law enforcement officials. A section specifically dealing with marijuana use by municipal employees, including police officers, advises police departments to consult with lawyers “before taking employment action against an employee with respect to the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.” The guidelines say there is “potential for differing interpretations” of employment-related issues. “This hinders us in the hiring of police — that alone should have been enough to stop the implementation of it,” Chief Fadgen said. “These are things that were known in advance. Now, we’re going to be dealing with the aftermath.” Mr. Massing said his office has a different view, meaning police departments have the right to prohibit the use of controlled substances by officers both on and off the job, such as with the use of tobacco. The guidelines say a civil citation under the new law does not disqualify someone from getting a firearms license, but a conviction under the old law does. Another problem is printing tickets for the marijuana offense. Tickets used for motor vehicle violations cannot be used, Mr. Collins said. So, cities and towns must print their own tickets, in books similar to those for citations issued by building inspectors and boards of health. Many communities — including Auburn, Clinton and Sudbury — do not have such citation books. Larger cities, such as Boston, do have them available. Mr. Massing said that in the interim, blank tickets can be downloaded from the state’s Web site, and printed for local use. Chief Sluckis said he has no intention of spending money on violation books that are “completely meaningless.” Fines will be collected by local city and town clerks. Mr. Massing said there is a glitch in the procedure if a court appeal is made. It is unclear who would be responsible for issuing a fine made in an appeal hearing, but it is being worked on. Mr. Collins said police departments are “100 percent ready, but they didn’t have much choice.” “They don’t have all the answers, but they know that.” Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)Author: Karen Nugent, Telegram & Gazette StaffPublished: Friday, January 2, 2009 Copyright: 2009 Worcester Telegram & GazetteContact: letters telegram.comWebsite: Related Articles:Lawmen Decry New Mass. Law Should Simply Enforce Pot Law as Written

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Comment #5 posted by Sinsemilla Jones on January 03, 2009 at 12:27:50 PT
Thanks Hope!
I loved Fuzzy Wuzzy, too.And the Fuzz was one of my favorite terms for cops.
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Comment #4 posted by Hope on January 03, 2009 at 10:20:02 PT
Sinsemilla Jones 
Lol! Both comments. I loved that Fuzzy Wuzzy rhyme when I was little.
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Comment #3 posted by Sinsemilla Jones on January 03, 2009 at 03:21:42 PT
With a name like Sluckis....
Isn't Sluckis one of the 7 words you can't say on broadcast TV?
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Comment #2 posted by Sinsemilla Jones on January 03, 2009 at 03:13:18 PT
What's The Big Fuzz About?
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bearFuzzy Wuzzy had no hairFuzzy Wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy, was he?
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Comment #1 posted by Vincent on January 02, 2009 at 21:28:24 PT:
Auburn Police Chief Andrew J. Sluckis
Hey, what's with this guy anyway? He hates the new law, like a typical ignorant ass. (when I say "ass", I mean a donkey, not that gorgeous thing that Racquel Welch sits on) Police chief Sluckis calls the new law a "train wreck" and that he doesn't know how to put the train back on track. What does he mean by that? Overturning it? Not only that but he thinks that the legislature should "choose not to enact" the new law, just as they failed to enact "the income tax rollback of 2000". He probably voted for the tax cut law, just like a typical Republican. What a CREEP! 
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