Friday, February 27, 2009
Chief Sullivan proposes new marijuana fine
Since the Massachusetts law decriminalizing possession of an ounce of marijuana passed last November, police chiefs across the state have struggled with the issue of enforcement. While possession is still illegal and punishable by a $100 fine, police can no longer arrest offenders for this infraction alone. And pedestrians not carrying identification, or choosing not to share it with officers, cannot be ticketed. Media reports of increasing casual marijuana smoking in public places has prompted the Massachusetts Police Association to recently recommend that local communities enact a $300 fine for public consumption of marijuana. At the Board of Selectmen’s February 24 meeting,
Carlisle Police Chief John Sullivan asked the Selectmen to add this late-breaking item to the Warrant for this May’s Town Meeting. Sullivan acknowledged “many debates in the police world” over the enforcement issue and noted that the courts strongly oppose arrests or exorbitant fines relating to marijuana infractions. Sullivan endorses the compromise reached to augment enforcement with “a $300 fine for smoking, ingesting, or consuming THC [delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active drug in marijuana] in public.” He noted that minors (under 18) found smoking or in possession of small amounts of marijuana currently receive a $100 fine, and are required to attend a ten-day drug awareness program. Failure to complete the course in a year results in a $1,000 fine.
The Selectmen presented certain scenarios to the chief to get clarification if the law was enacted by the town. Selectman Tim Hult, with a careful disclaimer that he did not smoke marijuana, said that if he was stopped by police while driving through the center of Carlisle with an ounce of the substance in the car, there would be a $100 fine, but if he lit up on the green at Old Home Day it would be a $300 offense. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie pointed out that in the second case, “You could be charged with both.” Sullivan explained that there would be a fine for possession and a fine for the public infraction which would total $400.
Hult continued that in this scenario if he were drinking an open can of beer while driving, he could be arrested. Sullivan pointed out while the fine might only be $50 or $100, the infraction would be recorded as a criminal offense and go on the person’s record. The Selectman agreed that the marijuana infraction was less harsh. Selectman Bill Tice moved the scenario to a friend’s lawn, where smoking a joint would be a $100 civil offense. In this case, alcohol consumption alone would be allowed on private property.
The Selectmen decided to add the proposed $300 fine for marijuana use in public to the Town Meeting Warrant and let the voters decide.
Sullivan, contacted after the meeting, noted that in 2008 there were only seven cases involving drugs recorded in Carlisle and only one involved a resident. Most cases involve cars passing through town and stopped for other offenses. He noted that, in his experience, 95% of drug cases in town pertain to marijuana.
“It’s a gateway drug,” Sullivan said. “It’s still illegal. You can’t grow it or cultivate it.” Sullivan shared his concerns that the decriminalization may result in relaxed attitudes toward marijuana by the public. Furthermore, Sullivan noted state decriminalization has given the Carlisle force many new scenarios and complications to consider without clear guidelines on who is responsible for various aspects of carrying out the law – the courts or the police. ∆
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