Anxiety in Massachusetts Over Softer Marijuana Law

Anxiety in Massachusetts Over Softer Marijuana Law
Posted by CN Staff on February 19, 2009 at 15:28:08 PT
By Jeremy Kutner, Contributor to The CSM
Source: Christian Science Monitor
MA -- Massachusetts voters made history by approving a sweeping marijuana decriminalization law on Election Day, but campaign debates are reigniting as communities start to enforce the new rule. The large margin of victory for the ballot initiative  65 percent of voters approved the law  is already inspiring similar legislative efforts in other New England states, prompting close attention nationwide to the effects of a less stringent marijuana law.
Massachusetts is not the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession  12 others have done so. But it is the first since the 1970s to eliminate criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of the drug, even for repeat offenders. "There were changes in this direction between 1973 and 1978, but then that movement just stopped, and stopped dead," says Peter Reuter, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and the former director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the RAND Corp. "It revitalizes a reform movement that had put laws like this on the back burner." The law makes possession of an ounce or less of pot a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine (with minors required to attend a drug awareness program). At issue are the specifics. Some opponents, including many law enforcement officials, say the law is poorly written and nearly unenforceable. These complaints are accelerating efforts in towns and cities across the state to enact ordinances governing "public consumption," which the law's defenders fear might edge toward recriminalization.  A Fine for Mr. Duck   One major concern of some police officials: While marijuana remains an illegal substance, full decriminalization, as is the case in Massachusetts, removes officers' powers of arrest, which means police can't compel offenders to identify themselves. "If someone is sitting on the front steps of City Hall smoking a bone, you can't do much if they tell you they're Donald Duck," says Terence Reardon, chief of police in Revere, a city of 55,000. Such complaints are overstated, say decriminalization advocates. "People have tried to claim that [the identification issue] is a loose end, but in fact it's no different than every other civil citation in Massachusetts, like jaywalking or in some communities drinking in public," says Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national marijuana decriminalization advocacy group that helped coordinate the Massachusetts referendum campaign. "Miraculously, it's a problem with marijuana." The new Massachusetts law specifically allows communities to draft their own public consumption ordinances, and dozens are considering doing so. The state attorney general's office prepared a model bylaw that would levy an additional $300 fine, the state maximum, on people caught using pot in public. "We're not making a recommendation one way or the other about whether communities should do this, but if they do they should use this language," says Emily LaGrassa, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Martha Coakley, who opposed the ballot initiative. But for some communities, such suggestions don't go far enough."What we're attempting is to get a city ordinance ... that makes it an illegal and arrestable offense to smoke [marijuana] in public," says Capt. Randall Humphrey of the city of Lowell police department. "We're not sure if we will be able to do it, but that's our goal." The plan has little chance of success, Captain Humphrey concedes. The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association this month e-mailed guidelines to area police chiefs about how Attorney General Coakley is likely to rule on new town bylaws, which her office must approve. The policy update puts arrest provisions off the table. "We don't believe a bylaw would be approved by the attorney general if it contained an arrest clause," says A. Wayne Sampson of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. "Without an arrest component to force identification, there's no point to a bylaw," says Police Chief Richard Stillman of Walpole, a town of about 24,000. He withdrew his plans for a town ordinance after learning of the policy update.   A Divisive Ordinance  Other towns and cities, though, are moving ahead with efforts to stiffen penalties. The city of Methuen last month became the first to act, raising fines in what the mayor says is an effort to address some "unintended consequences" of the referendum, which some people may interpret as encouraging marijuana use. Mayor William Manzi approves of higher fines, but he says he's been surprised by the "vehemence" of local anger at his efforts and bemoans the divisiveness the issue has stirred up. "It's all been sort of balkanized at this point," Mr. Manzi says. In Quincy, early discussions on tougher penalties brought out protestors, marijuana ablaze, to challenge police, says city councilor Kevin Coughlin. "[Some officials] fear this is the first step toward legalization," he says. "We're going to end up with 351 cities and towns doing 351 different things." Bill Downing, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, discounts such concerns. "The public will see that the sky does not fall," he says. Continuing with efforts to tack on additional marijuana-related penalties "shows a tremendous amount of disrespect to Massachusetts voters who voted to decriminalize," he adds. The fight is unlikely to end soon. Mr. Downing's organization is listing upcoming town meetings about new public use laws, and at least three are scheduled for next week. Some hope the Massachusetts legislature will address some of the outstanding enforcement issues. But state Rep. William Brownsberger (D), a longtime researcher of drug issues, doesn't see that as likely. "Everyone is being cautious politically, and people don't want to be seen as disagreeing with the will of the people," says Representative Brownsberger. While marijuana use is a sensitive issue, he urges perspective. "This is just not our biggest problem, either way." Note: Some towns and cities seek stiffer penalties for public use, after state voters approved decriminalization.Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)Author: Jeremy Kutner, Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor Published: February 20, 2009 Edition Copyright: 2009 The Christian Science Publishing SocietyContact: oped csps.comWebsite: URL: Articles:MJ Activists Read Too Much Into Question 2 Simple Law Goes One Toke Over The Line
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Comment #13 posted by Hope on February 20, 2009 at 09:27:52 PT
There seem to be quite a few Mouses
in Arizona, too.That being said, enough with the Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse woe.
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Comment #12 posted by Hope on February 20, 2009 at 09:17:51 PT
Neil Young
I hadn't read that part. I would have known!There are so many musicians like Mr. Dunn that are so integral to music we love, and yet many of us, often, that don't see them, but do hear them, don't know what their names are.
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Comment #11 posted by FoM on February 20, 2009 at 09:02:45 PT
I knew about him because of him playing with Neil Young.
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Comment #10 posted by Hope on February 20, 2009 at 08:56:03 PT
Donald Duck Dunn
I didn't know about Mr. Dunn. That's a very, very impressive musical career. Very.
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Comment #9 posted by Hope on February 20, 2009 at 08:50:21 PT
There are a lot of Mouses all over the United States, but it seems there are, just scanning the list, several Mouses in Georgia. I wonder where they came from, ancestry, and the history of that name. It may be a royal name in Denmark or somewhere.Mouses? They must get sick of the crap they have to hear about it. Maybe it's pronounced "Moses".Just trying to imagine it. Mr. and Mrs. Mouse. It could either build character or destroy it.Moosay?
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Comment #8 posted by FoM on February 20, 2009 at 08:37:26 PT
My Favorite Donald Duck
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Comment #7 posted by Hope on February 20, 2009 at 08:21:35 PT
Comment 3 BGreen
Exactly! So very true!
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Comment #6 posted by Hope on February 20, 2009 at 08:13:49 PT
Donald Duck?
Actually, there are quite a few people named Donald Duck in the United States. There was a man in a neighboring community when I was growing up with that name exactly.I did a quick search on a Find People site and got back results for 125 real Donald Ducks. Ten people named Donald Mouse and 147 people actually named Mickey Mouse.And you thought you had an ornery moniker?
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on February 20, 2009 at 08:04:35 PT
I agree with Hope. I do not like to read police's opinions on our issue at all. Good cop, bad cop I still don't care since I have always believed ( since my sister is a retired Police Woman ) that they are not to do that.
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Comment #4 posted by Hope on February 20, 2009 at 07:58:45 PT
Don't you dare be sorry! We're not just venting, although saying truths here is helpful, as opposed to not being able to say what is worrying or aggravating us. This is an out in the public space. We're not unlike a very long and continuous town hall meeting. We're citizens saying what needs to be said. We may just be making tiny complaining noises in the wilderness of the world... but it really needs to be done. We're all trying to do what we can to end a disaster of injustice brought upon this nation and the entire world. To not complain in matters this serious would be wrong.People are being hurt, imprisoned, and even killed all over the world because of the misbegotten laws we're railing about.And you're so right. For so many, many years we've had to hear,"We don't make the laws. We just enforce them." Where did that attitude on their part go?
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Comment #3 posted by BGreen on February 20, 2009 at 07:20:48 PT
I've heard this question answered by LEO's
They claim to be citizens who, just like us, are entitled to voice their opinions on any matter they wish. I don't mind them voicing their opinions but I object to the way they deceivingly portray themselves as experts on a subject just because they arrest people for it.I'll call my doctor the next time my car is stolen. That makes every bit as much sense as getting medical advice from a cop. What's even more stupid is allowing that cop to second guess our doctors and otherwise actively interfere with our doctor/patient relationship.STUPID!The Reverend Bud Green
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Comment #2 posted by GeoChemist on February 20, 2009 at 03:37:26 PT:
News flash
Law enforcement's opinion on this or any other voter-approvred issue matters not; they're not legislators, they're enforcers. Here's the law, enforce it...PERIOD. If they want to voice there opinion on matters such as this, run for office.....sorry all, I'm just venting
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Comment #1 posted by vincent on February 19, 2009 at 17:25:36 PT:
Mass. decrim. law
So, Bill Downing, president of the Massachusetts Canabis Reform Coalition says that efforts, by some cities in his state to stiffen penalties against public Marijuana use, are disrespectful to people that voted to decriminalize pot.
You know, he's right!
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