Boston, MA -- The Question 2 initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana should be Exhibit 1 in the case against using ballot questions to make public policy.
What seemed so simple to 65 percent of the state's voters on Tuesday - replacing the criminal penalties for possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana with a civil penalty of $100 - is already fogging the legal landscape.
Supporters of Question 2 sold the public on the idea that the penalty for pot possession should be on a par with traffic violations. But traffic violators, at least, are required to show their driver's licenses to police officers. Law enforcement officials are unsure about what, if any, identification can be demanded from violators of the new pot law.
Currently, Massachusetts residents are not required to carry identification unless engaged in specific acts, such as driving. Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley predicts that police will be handing out quite a few citations "to Mickey Mouse" unless the Legislature amends the new law.
The high-spending backers of Question 2 put one over on the public in other ways, as well. They emphasized the need to prevent someone who makes one mistake from running up criminal records. But first-time offenders receive unsupervised probation under current law and their records are sealed.
Now there is no teeth in the law at all. The possession of dozens or even scores of joints, depending on strength, has become akin to a leash-law violation.
It would be ironic if the Legislature winds up expanding police powers to accommodate Question 2. The state of Maine, for example, has a similar law decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. But it also criminalizes the act of refusing to provide police with a credible form of identification, even when the violation that prompts the request for ID is only a civil offense.
In the best-case scenario, adults cited for possession of small amounts of marijuana will take their citations along with their recreational drugs. But the incentive for underage pot smokers to lie to police is much greater. Question 2 specifies that the parents of offenders under age 18 will be notified in addition to a $100 fine and mandatory attendance at a drug awareness program. It won't take long for the schoolhouse lawyers to advise their peers how best to evade justice, regardless of whether it takes the form of a citation or a parent's wrath.
Perhaps backers of Question 2 just wanted people to be able to smoke marijuana with impunity. But rather than arguing openly for that goal, they chose to make a mess of the legal system instead.
Posted by CN Staff on November 07, 2008 at 06:26:54 PT
Source: Boston Globe