Massachusetts Towns Giving Up On Marijuana Enforcement


Graphic: ABC News
Some Massachusetts towns are throwing in the towel when it comes to marijuana enforcement. Puzzlingly, some folks, mostly cops, seem upset about that.

​Some towns in Massachusetts have given up enforcing the state’s marijuana law which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of pot, saying the law is written with too many loopholes to be effective.

The decrim law established a civil fine of $100 for those caught with an ounce or less of cannabis. That punishment replaced what had been a criminal offense carrying a penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine, also for possession of an ounce or less.
But the decrim law, which voters overwhelmingly passed in November 2008, doesn’t require offenders to correctly identify themselves, nor does it give a way for cities to make them pay the fines, reports The Associated Press.
What has resulted is a patchwork of marijuana enforcement across Massachusetts, as some communities continue to hand out hundreds of the $100 civil citations for pot, while others look the other way when it comes to personal cannabis use.

Photo: Josh Reynolds/Boston Globe
Wayne Sampson, Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association: “If they tell you their name is Yogi Berra or Ronald McDonald, nothing allows for further positive identification.” Dude, you look like your ass hurts.

​”A number of communities have tried, but a number have just given up,” said Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.
Most civil citations, such as speeding tickets, carry consequences for those who fail to pay the fines. In some cases, the cops can even file criminal charges against people who fail to pay.
But with Massachusetts’ decrim law, they cannot do so for simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The only resource for city and town clerks is to take offenders to small claims court, which they say is not worth the time or effort to collect a $100 fine.
“The ticketing of the individuals isn’t effective without a back up or other consequences for nonpayment of fines,” said New Bedford Police Chief Ronald Teachman.
Other officers complain that the law doesn’t require people caught with small amounts of marijuana to provide identification.
“If they tell you their name is Yogi Berra or Ronald McDonald, nothing allows for further positive identification,” Sampson whined.
Police chiefs are pushing for legislation to “strengthen the law’s enforcement” — thus, of course, weakening its intended effect of decriminalizing marijuana — and to require offenders to identify themselves. But legislators don’t seem to feel much pressure to change the law approved by voters; according to Sampson, lawmakers have suggested the police chiefs wait until the law had been in effect longer.
Despite the challenges, officials in Massachusetts’ largest cities claim they are still enforcing the law by handing out civil citations to pot smokers.
“Our job is to enforce the laws,” Worcester police spokesman Sgt. Kerry Hazelhurst said. “That is what we have been doing.”
Springfield has averaged writing more than one citation a day since the decrim law took effect in January 2009. The city has given out 730 pot citations under decrim, according to Sgt. John Delaney of the Springfield Police Department.
“The people that are using marijuana are still very conscious of the fact that marijuana is not legal,” Delaney said.
Some cities and towns have even found a way around the clearly expressed will of the voters by passing bylaws prohibiting marijuana use in public and increasing the fines for pot possession.
Law enforcement officers have all the tools they need to enforce the law effectively, according to supporters of the decrim ballot measure, who say the law has not ushered in an era in which users can smoke with impunity.
“Decriminalization is never society sanctioning the use of marijuana; it is reducing the cost of interactions with police,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Most people who are asked for their name by a police officer won’t lie, according to Steven Epstein of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.
But some police officers around the state claim challenges in enforcing the new law have created an environment where marijuana use is, in effect, a legal activity.
“It is for all intents and purposes legal as long as you have an ounce or less,” claimed William Brooks, deputy chief of the Wellesley Police Department.
Cops in Quincy, Wellesley and New Bedford also predictably claim they’ve seen an “increased presence of marijuana” in their communities, although when it comes to hard numbers to back up that claim, they have few or none.