Pubdate: Sun, 21 Oct 2007
Source: Sun Chronicle (Attleboro, MA)
Copyright: 2007 Sun Chronicle
Author: Steven S. Epstein


To the editor:

I  enjoyed Ned Bristol's column, "Why stop at casinos, Gov. Patrick?"
(Sept. 23).

Having never read his work before, I am not sure he fancies himself  a
Jonathan Swift or John Stuart Mills. I hope the latter. I am sure of
two  things: that he appreciates facts and he got one partially wrong.

That  fact is that Massachusetts has not effectively decriminalized
marijuana possession. By statute, possession is still a misdemeanor
potentially punishable  by time in jail and the revocation of the
privilege to drive; keep and bear  arms; receive federally guaranteed
student loans; and, reside in subsidized  housing. If by "effectively
decriminalized" he means these punishments are rarely invoked he is
correct. If he means that marijuana possessors are often  not arrested
he is also correct.

Many police departments and individual  officers have a de facto
policy against arresting marijuana possessors unless  the person has
an outstanding warrant or has committed another offense for which
they have the power to arrest by statute or common law. These
otherwise  law-abiding persons are freed to go on their way. Sometimes
they are freed after  receiving a verbal; sometimes they are freed and
given a ticket notifying them  they have four business days to request
a magistrate's hearing and sometimes  they are freed after being told
they will be summonsed to court. In the latter  case, they should
receive notice to appear for a clerk-magistrate's hearing, but  some
district courts issue a complaint without scheduling a magistrate's

Real decriminalization requires the repeal of the arbitrarily
exercised power of the police to hold a person for the bail magistrate
merely  because the officer found them in possession and reducing the
penalty to a fine  as the Legislature chose to do with most motor
vehicle offenses over 30 years  ago.

Steven S. Epstein,


This writer is an  attorney and founder of the Massachusetts Cannabis
Reform Coalition.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek