Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Statewide Ballot Question 2: Possession of Marijuana

The proposed law would downgrade the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a civil, rather than criminal, penalty.  Those 18 years or older will be subject to a $100 fine (and forfeiture of marijuana); those under 18 will be have their parents notified, etc.

Summary

This proposed law would replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties, to be enforced by issuing citations, and would exclude information regarding this civil offense from the state’s criminal record information system. Offenders age 18 or older would be subject to forfeiture of the marijuana plus a civil penalty of $100. Offenders under the age of 18 would be subject to the same forfeiture and, if they complete a drug awareness program within one year of the offense, the same $100 penalty.

Offenders under 18 and their parents or legal guardian would be notified of the offense and the option for the offender to complete a drug awareness program developed by the state Department of Youth Services. Such programs would include ten hours of community service and at least four hours of instruction or group discussion concerning the use and abuse of marijuana and other drugs and emphasizing early detection and prevention of substance abuse.

The penalty for offenders under 18 who fail to complete such a program within one year could be increased to as much as $1,000, unless the offender showed an inability to pay, an inability to participate in such a program, or the unavailability of such a program. Such an offender’s parents could also be held liable for the increased penalty. Failure by an offender under 17 to complete such a program could also be a basis for a delinquency proceeding.

The proposed law would define possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as including possession of one ounce or less of tetrahydrocannibinol (“THC”), or having metabolized products of marijuana or THC in one’s body.

Under the proposed law, possessing an ounce or less of marijuana could not be grounds for state or local government entities imposing any other penalty, sanction, or disqualification, such as denying student financial aid, public housing, public financial assistance including unemployment benefits, the right to operate a motor vehicle, or the opportunity to serve as a foster or adoptive parent. The proposed law would allow local ordinances or bylaws that prohibit the public use of marijuana, and would not affect existing laws, practices, or policies concerning operating a motor vehicle or taking other actions while under the influence of marijuana, unlawful possession of prescription forms of marijuana, or selling, manufacturing, or trafficking in marijuana.

The money received from the new civil penalties would go to the city or town where the offense occurred.

WHAT YOUR VOTE WILL DO

A YES VOTE would replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties.

A NO VOTE would make no change in state criminal laws concerning possession of marijuana.

Source: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/ele08/ballot_questions_08/quest_2.htm

Some of the arugments on both sides:

In Favor

Those in favor of decriminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana note that the bill, in instituting a civil penalty, would prevent violators from acquiring a “CORI” record (Criminal Offender Record Information).  These documents record every appearance that an individual makes in a state court for a criminal offense, regardless of whether they are convicted or not.  Proponents of the new bill suggest that the record can threaten employment, housing, and education opportunities.

Proponents claim that the state would save $30 million dollars annually, associated with enforcing the current laws regarding marijuana possession. (http://sensiblemarijuanapolicy.org/about-initiative)

The penalties for juveniles would actually be more harsh than they currently are, entailing community service (ugh) and attendance in drug awareness programs.  I like this argument because, on the one hand, we decriminalize the possession of marijuana and reconceive of the drug’s role in our society, and then we bring the hammer down on the minors — people who can’t even vote on the law and are receiving a message that “the grown-ups” don’t see the drug as being as detrimental as it once was (and hence, the decriminalization).  Bravo.

Eleven other states have decriminalized marijuana, and they’re doing fine.

You probably don’t even know which states they are.  Well, do you?

Not in Favor

The naysayers argue that the penalties for first time offenders aren’t as harsh as the other side makes them out to be:

For qualified first offenders, especially teens and young adults, the District Attorneys offer diversion programs that steer kids away from the courts, put them on probation and then dismiss the charge.  If first offenders are actually arraigned in court for marijuana possession, Massachusetts law requires that they be placed on probation and that, at the successful conclusion of probation, “the case shall be dismissed and the record shall be sealed.”

Source: http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=dmdautilities&L=1&sid=Dmdaa&U=featurestory_moreEnemeny

By imposing a civil penalty, the citation for possession of marijuana will actually be more accessible than information contained in a CORI record (Source).  I find this to be the most interesting argument from either side.  Unfortunately, for those not in favor of Question 2, this argument undercuts the basis of their position: that marijuana’s effect on society is serious, and therefore, the penalties for marijuana possession should remain harsh.  According to that logic, they should be favoring more public access to one’s infringements of the law.

Regarding claims by the other side:

  • Claim: “Question 2 claims that it will protect our children from a criminal record that will prevent them from ever receiving student loans.”
  • Response: “Under current federal law, the only way an offender can be denied a student loan is if he is convicted of a drug offense while he is in school and already receiving federal aid, and then he loses his aid for one year.  He can lessen that one year period if he completes drug rehabilitation.  If he is convicted again, under the same conditions, he loses his loan eligibility for 2 years.” (Source)
  • Claim: “Massachusetts will save $30 million.”
  • Response: First, proponents of the bill commissioned the report where that figure was unearthed from.  Second, “[…] if Question 2 passes, police officers will have to spend the same time and effort as they do on a criminal case.  They will have to confiscate the drugs, question the offender, write a report, transport the drugs to a secure site for destruction, and deliver their report to the police station as well as city hall for accounting purposes.  The time spent will be the equivalent, if not more, than what the police spend now.” (Source)

Opponents also go ad hominem on George Soros and mock  the “grassroots” characterization of the bill’s proponents.  I don’t know.

They talk about the number of criminals who are arrested with marijuana in their system, blurring the line between causality and correlation for the reader.

They argue against propositions that aren’t being made.  Prime examples include statistics regarding marijuana use and the operation of motor vehicles.  The proposed bill has nothing to do with encouraging driving while under the influence.  The statistic they need to make an argument, is one showing an increase in the number of marijuana-related accidents as a result of decriminalizing the drug.  They don’t present that.

They don’t even present numbers on the increase in marijuana usage based on the decriminalization of it.

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