Last November Massachusetts’s voters approved a ballot initiative which reduced the penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana from a possible maximum of six months in jail and a permanent blotch on your criminal history to a maximum of a $100 civil penalty, no jail and with nothing at all ever being reported to the state’s criminal history board. Anyone under 18 would also be required to take a drug education program and to complete some community service.
The voters spoke loud and clear. The legislature had until a few days ago to amend or repeal the initiative, but they chose not to. These are the same folks that scream bloody murder when an actual bill to decriminalize is placed on their desks. Truly the definition of political courage there, eh? The world will come to an end if you vote to reduce marijuana punishment, but if the voters insist on it… you’ll look the other way.
At any rate, the measure becomes law, and now the police are apparently befuddled. What should they do? You know, now that this new wrinkle complicates things for them so:
Police say they have two main problems with the law.
Many complain that their current citation books lack a check-off box for marijuana possession and they have yet to receive updated ticket books, although temporary forms are available through a state website.
Seriously? No check-off box for marijuana on your standard preprinted forms? Writing in “possession of marijuana < 1 oz.” somewhere on the ticket is harder than arresting, transporting, booking, interviewing and one presumes eventually releasing a defendant from jail?
Ok, so what’s the other problem?
More fundamentally, they complain that officers have no way of determining the identity of people they stop on the street for smoking marijuana.
Before the law was changed, officers could arrest them, or threaten them with arrest to force them to show identification. Now, they say they cannot force users to show IDs, and cannot arrest them if they refuse to identify themselves. [N.B. Texans should read Austin Criminal Law Journal’s explanation of why that ain’t so in the Lone Star State.]
Oh, so it sounds like any other civil penalty then, right? Like a parking ticket maybe? And maybe someone will – hang on to your hats for this one – not pay their $100 fine. They might get off scot-free.
The mere thought of it sends police organizations scrambling:
John M. Collins, general counsel for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said he had been fielding calls from dozens of members across the state.
This is to be expected since major changes in the administration of justice often cause numerous disruptions in the law enforcement community. Being told to write tickets for simple possession instead of hauling folks off to jail requires lots of planning and reorganizing priorities, etc.
How are some police agencies dealing with the situation?
[M]any police departments across the state were essentially ignoring the voter-passed law, saying they would not even bother to ticket people they see smoking marijuana…
Andrew J. Sluckis Jr., chief of police in Auburn, said his 39 officers would not be issuing $100 citations for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, as required under the ballot initiative known as Question 2.
"If the Legislature enacts some changes, we’ll be happy to do it in the future, but as it stands now we’re not going to be issuing civil citations," he said. If an officer spots someone smoking marijuana, he said, "We will confiscate it and the person will be sent on their way."
"It is frustrating," he added, "because we have to deal with a law that is almost non-enforceable at best."
Don’t give up all hope Chief Sluckis. Turns out that non-enforcement is the goal in and of itself. That ole “voter-passed” law that has you all in a dither? It doesn’t require you to give everyone a ticket…
It simply requires you to stop arresting them. So while you might think you are teaching those voters a lesson by throwing up your hands and insisting their wishes are impossible to carry out and therefore you will do nothing at all… you are actually following their instructions to a T.