Thursday, January 1, 2009

Massachusetts Decriminalization Takes Effect Today

Today is the day that possession of less than an ounce is decriminalized in Massachusetts. From today, possession will no longer be a criminal offense and will be punished by a $100 civil violation and confiscation of the contraband.

However, there are some things to keep in mind. Lynda M. Connolly, the Chief Justice, issued a pamphlet about the new law.

Here are some basics:

In some districts, the police are threatening not to enforce the new law altogether. They may run into some issues in court when it is revealed that they are arresting citizens for a non-criminal offense (imagine trying to handcuff someone for rolling a stop sign or forgetting to feed the meter). Still you may be best avoiding the situation altogether.

Some towns are passing bylaws making public smoking of marijuana a misdemeanor criminal offense. Because these laws vary from town, it is hard to make a blanket statement about all of them, but it is possible that some could be worded badly enough that they apply to possession in public as well. Thus, it would be advisable not to walk down the street with a dime bag in your hands.

And, keep in mind - while marijuana has been decriminalized, it has not been legalized. $100 tickets could start to add up, and while they will not create a criminal record, they nevertheless do create a viewable record. If your job (or a job you aspire to have) forbids drug use, you would be best avoiding the fine altogether.

Before, police enforced the marijuana possession law weakly. Now, as evidenced on MassCops, they will be much stricter. Be smart - lighting up a joint in the middle of the Commons (or even a back alley) is probably not a good idea.

Also, the only law that has been changed is the one regarding possession of less than an ounce. Other violations, such as possession of more than an ounce, purchase, sale, and intent to distribute, are all still criminal offenses, and the police are likely to be more strict about those offenses with this new law. Dividing up half an ounce into two or more bags could be considered intent to distribute. It would be advisable not to risk the criminal offense - don't divide up your stash into multiple parts. And passing a joint back and forth could be considered distribution, rather than simply possession.

In other words: While the penalties for possession have decreased, the risk of heavier charges instead of possession has increased. Use the same precautions under the new law that you used under the old law.

Lastly, OUIs are still criminal offenses. Not to mention that they are dangerous. Do not take the new law as an opportunity to drive while stoned. Officers no doubt will try and charge people with OUI instead of possession even when a driver is sober. Don't make it any easier for them.

We worked hard to decriminalize marijuana in Massachusetts on the grounds that most marijuana users are safe and responsible. This is our chance to prove that we were right - let's make the most of it.

Remember, Legal.Now does not encourage criminal activity. (Thankfully, though, possession is no longer a criminal activity in Massachusetts!) On a serious note, though, this post is not meant to encourage readers to smoke marijuana simply because of the change in law. Rather, it is meant as a bit of guidance as to what the changes in the law mean.

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