Georgetown, MA -
The Georgetown Police Department is taking a proactive approach to the new marijuana law passed by Massachusetts voters in November. So far, things are running well, according to Georgetown Police Chief James Mulligan. Three tickets have been issued and all three have been paid since the law took effect on Jan. 2, Mulligan says.
“Because we’re accredited now [by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission in September 2008], we have to create a policy almost immediately,” says Mulligan. “It was simple. We looked at the law and issued a copy of the policy to every officer. The policies had to be read, reviewed, signed off on and returned by every officer, and that includes me. We’re following the standards that have been set by the court.”
Under the new marijuana law passed by voters, anyone 18 and over found with an ounce or less of marijuana will have the law explained to them, and be issued a civil citation (ticket) for a $100 fine, and have the drug confiscated. Anyone under 18 receives the same penalties, but must also complete a drug awareness program within one year. The ticket can be appealed within 21 days.
If the fine is not paid to the Town Clerk within 21 days, the offender, if 18 or over, will be summonsed to Haverhill District Court, and if under 18, a delinquency procedure will be held in Juvenile Court. Also, if a person under 18 fails to attend the drug awareness program within the one year mandated, the court can impose a $1,000 fine and renew the amount of time mandated in a drug awareness program taught by certified drug counselors to a year, according to Mulligan.
Voters here and across the state overwhelmingly supported what appeared as Question 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot. In Georgetown the numbers followed closely with the state, with 63 percent “yes” to a 65 percent “yes” margin statewide.
The new Massachusetts law is not unique. The state is one of a dozen or so states that have similar decriminalization laws, including Ohio, Oregon, North Carolina and New York.
If officers find more than an ounce of marijuana in a car, there would be a different procedure used.
“We’d confiscate it, bring it to headquarters, and weigh it,” says Mulligan. “If it’s more than an ounce, we will file a criminal complaint. This law decriminalizes marijuana possession of an ounce or less, but it does not legalize it. If people are selling any amount of marijuana that’s a felony. This law does not give drug dealers a free pass.
“To me, having any amount of marijuana in a car is tantamount to having an open can of beer in there.”
Mulligan says he does not agree with the new law, but is sworn to enforce it.
Towns around the commonwealth have approached the new law differently. In Marblehead, for instance, there have been no tickets issued yet for marijuana possession under the law. Marblehead Police Chief Bob Picariello says there is a misconception among people that the new law legalizes marijuana, but this is not the case.
“You still pay a $100 fine; that’s a fairly substantial amount of money,” says Picariello. “You can’t be walking down the street smoking a joint; that’s just not going to be legal. So I don’t know if people fully understand what the law completely says… I just don’t want people to think it was legalized; that seems to be a misconception.
“Under the new law, marijuana is still defined as contraband, and according to the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety, all laws concerning distributing, selling, manufacturing or trafficking the substance remain intact. If there is probable cause to believe that a suspect is engaged in distribution or possession with intent to distribute, then police may charge that suspect criminally. Also unchanged are laws related to driving under the influence of marijuana.”
Picariello says he disagrees with the new law, noting it sends the wrong message to those in the community about drugs. He adds there are also many “gaping loopholes” the Legislature needs to address. Picariello describes marijuana as dangerous in that it is a gateway drug, which can lead to other types of substance abuse.
“I don’t think it’s the best thing in the world for us,” he said. “I am concerned with the message we send with a law like this. We are telling our kids it’s not a big deal, and we may in fact create an epidemic with this. I think we’re sending a bad message to everybody, but my job is to enforce the laws that the Legislature makes.”
In Georgetown, Chief Mulligan also says the law sends the wrong message to kids: that it is no big deal.
The official Web site of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association offers the opinion that marijuana is not the benevolent substance touted by supporters of this new legislation.
“THC level (marijuana’s primary psychoactive ingredient) in today’s marijuana is nine times stronger than the marijuana of the 1970s,”states the Web site.
Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett talked about his opposition to decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana at a meeting Oct. 3, 2008 with Community Newspaper Company reporters and editors in Beverly.
“This is a drug dealers’ protection act. This will seduce more kids to smoke and buy marijuana,” he said. He argued decriminalizing any amount of marijuana, no matter the size, is a bad health policy.
Georgetown’s Steve Epstein, an attorney and one of the founders of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, believes the new marijuana law is a step in the right direction.
Marijuana use is going to happen, Epstein has noted in past interviews with the Record, saying, “The cat is out of the bag. All you can do is teach your children and that moderation is key.”
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