Pubdate: Thu, 25 Sep 2003
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2003 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Steven S. Epstein
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


To the editor:

The revenue crisis at the federal, state and municipal levels grows more 
pressing each day.  Persons who benefit from government programs do not 
want to see those programs reduced.  Taxpayers who do not benefit from 
those programs do not want to pay more taxes to pay for all the 
programs.  There is, however, one group that wants to be taxed: the 
marijuana users.

Most marijuana users are productive, responsible citizens, that except for 
their use of marijuana are otherwise law-abiding citizens.

This past fall over 54 percent of the voters in the 1st, 2nd and 18th Essex 
districts favored making possession of marijuana a civil violation, as we 
did last century for speeding.  The question also proposed that if the 
violator is under 18, the police would be required to hold them until 
released to a parent or legal guardian or brought before a judge.

Legislation implementing this policy, and a fine of not less than $100 nor 
more than $500 for the first violation and doubling the range for a second 
or subsequent violation, was at my request filed by Barbara L'Italien and 
Bruce Tarr.  One version proposes splitting the fine between the state and 
the municipality in which the violation occurred.

This is not a radical change in how marijuana possession cases are actually 
handled by the courts in Massachusetts.  The revoking of the power of the 
police to arrest an adult for possessing marijuana effectively increases 
the police budget of the state and municipalities an estimated $24 million, 
by freeing officers from the paperwork and court time now required when 
they make an arrest.  The splitting of the fine will raise a modest amount 
of revenue and discourage officers from seizing the marijuana and letting 
the violator go with a verbal warning as sometimes happens.

What appears radical, yet I think the best policy, now favored by 41 
percent of Americans according to a recent poll, is to treat marijuana the 
same way we treat alcohol: regulate it, tax it, and only make it illegal 
for children. Such a policy would effectively increase the criminal justice 
budget of the state $120.6 million per year and would yield an estimated 
$16.9 million in income and sales tax revenue.

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