Thumbing their noses at the state’s lax new pot law, Bay State stoners are brazenly lighting up in front of cops and then refusing to pay fines - leading some frustrated police chiefs to all but give up the fight.
Local police report widespread defiance of the six-month-old law, and a Herald review shows a vast majority of potheads cited by cops blowing off their $100 fines.
Some egregious examples of tokers flaunting the law include:
• In Arlington, a public works employee was cited by the local police chief for smoking a pot pipe as he stood next to his town-issued tractor.
• At bustling Park Street Station, a pair of nonchalant lovers out on the town openly lit up a joint and continued toking even after confronted by off-duty Milton Chief Richard Wells.
• In East Boston, four teens spotted in a “smoke-filled vehicle” unabashedly told a cop they were “just smoking marijuana.”
• A man caught near a Dorchester playground laughed when police said he faced a $100 fine - and then taunted the cops with an expletive-laced tirade.
All told, a staggering 83 percent of 415 tokers cited in Boston since the law took effect in January have refused to pony up the $100, a Herald review shows.
In Braintree, 15 of 28 citations went unpaid, while in Brookline 26 of 33 blew off the fines.
Somerville Deputy Chief Paul Upton said his officers are now writing few if any citations, in part because enforcing the law costs more money than it’s worth.
“If we send an officer to court, it’s going to cost us $250,” Upton said. “We’re not getting a lot of (citations) written.”
In Milton, Chief Wells said the new pot law is unenforceable because there’s nothing encouraging scofflaws to pay fines or even give their real names to police.
Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless, head of the state prosecutors group that fought against relaxing pot sanctions, said, “It’s exactly what we were afraid of, and what we predicted would happen. They’d issue citations, and they’d be ignored.”
Proponents argued pot convictions made youthful indiscretions into lifelong liabilities. But while unpaid parking tickets can cost drivers their licenses, unpaid pot fines carry no repercussions.
“There’s nothing that can happen,” Capeless said.
Thomas Kiley, the Beacon Hill powerbroker who crafted the measure, insisted the law has teeth.
Tucked in the law is language that places pot possession on par with other citations, and police can haul a scofflaw into court, Kiley said. “We did (anticipate) this,” Kiley said.
But Cheryl A. Sibley, chief administrator for the Boston Municipal Court Department, said police are powerless because that provision is neutralized by language clearly stating the only penalty the offender pays is the $100 fine.
Meanwhile, in Braintree on Monday night, police spotted a suspected perv smoking pot in a car filled with coils of rope, a pair of handcuffs and bottles of NyQuil. But they had to let the man go, even though he was awaiting trial on child sexual assault charges.
Said Deputy Chief Russell Jenkins, “Had the law not been changed, he absolutely would have been placed under arrest.”
By Edward Mason and Jessica Van Sack
July 16, 2009
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Pot law leaves cops high and dry