Posts filed under ‘Massachusetts’

Massachusetts Seeks to Legalize, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana

California’s got company. Not two months after Question 2 went into effect, decriminalizing marijuana, Massachusetts may legalize the marijuana industry – subject to a tax, of course. Senate Bill 1801 and House Bill 2929 have been introduced. 

65% of Massachusetts voters supported the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana in November. Depending on what measure you use, Massachusetts is one of the smokiest states (this chart measures marijuana use in the past year, placing Massachusetts at #5).

NORML has very clear letters that you can send to your elected officials. You can send the letters using NORML’s automated feature, but for your convenience, they are also reproduced below. (Remember to specify House Bill 2929 or Senate Bill 1801 in the letter, and remember that you can also contact your state legislators using the link at the top of the page).

 

I’m writing to urge your support for House Bill 2929/Senate Bill 1801. This measure seeks to tax and regulate the use of marijuana by adults age 21 and over. If approved this measure would: 1) Raise tens of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue for the state of Massachusetts; 2) Restrict access to marijuana to those under age 21; 3) Improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to focus on more serious crimes; and 4) Institute reasonable regulation consistent with the state and federal constitution. In November, 65 percent of voters in Massachusetts endorsed a statewide initiative reclassifying marijuana possession as a fine-only offense under state law. Passage of House Bill 2929/Senate Bill 1801 would bring greater control to this law by imposing proper state restrictions on the sale and use of marijuana by adults. House Bill 2929/Senate Bill 1801 is a fiscally conservative, common sense proposal that seeks to bring control to Massachusetts’ untaxed, unregulated marijuana market. I look forward to hearing from you that you will support House Bill 2929/Senate Bill 1801.

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March 23, 2009 at 9:44 pm 2 comments

Decriminalization at Home has Implications Overseas

…if you call Canada ‘overseas’, that is. And we’re fine with that!

Over the years, Canada has, unfortunately, adopted the ‘war on drugs’ that their southern neighbors held so dear. Their policies are still much more progressive than those in the US, but talk of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana in Canada is usually abandoned due to the complications that would provide with US law.

All that falls apart, though, when states in the US (like Massachusetts) start decriminalizing marijuana. As the Vancouver Sun reports, changes like these might allow foreign countries (such as Canada) to ease up on their drug polices. (Unfortunately, the opposite is happening between The Netherlands and Germany).

What’s really interesting about this article is the tone. Generally, US journalism about the war on drugs is bent towards the status quo (ie, against decriminalization), with the very notable exception of liberal, niche-market newspapers. Note the way that the Sun reports on the implications of changing marijuana policies, and the statistics that they cite. It’s only one example, but it provides a stunning contrast with the vast majority of the articles I have read about Question 2 (and I’ve read almost every single one written in the last month on the subject).

In Canada, drugs are a provincial matter (just as they are a statewide matter here), and British Columbia laws regarding possession and drug use are far, far better than what most states in the US have adopted (and, in some ways, better than any state in the US). And the sky hasn’t fallen there yet, has it?

And just in case you missed it in the article:

Among 15- to 19-year-olds in B.C., occasional and regular use of cannabis is higher than is tobacco use. The lifetime use of cannabis in B.C. for those 15 and over is 52.1 per cent, the highest in Canada.

First of all, the lifetime use statistic is slightly higher than the one I generally see quoted for the US (and it surpasses the 50% benchmark!), but that’s not surprising. In order for these studies to report data, people have to admit to use, and local drug laws (or local culture and societal norms, which influence local drug laws), might dissuade a person from admitting their past use.

But more importantly – the newspaper actually reported the statistic. I would challenge you all to search Google news for ‘Massachusetts marijuana’ and go through each article until you find a statistic such as that.

And this is an important lesson for us activists – while political pressure (in the form of letters, phonebanking, etc.) is a good tactic, the media does control public perception, which in turn controls voting preferences, which in turn controls political pressure. Thus, putting pressure on media outlets is just as important as putting pressure on politicians, lest we forget.

January 8, 2009 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

The Fight

Possession in Massachusetts is now decriminalized at the state level end-of-story-well-sort-of, but that doesn’t stop towns from passing their own bylaws banning public use. And if those laws are creatively crafted/applied, they could end up neutralizing a large part of what Question 2 did for us.

Especially if they make public use a criminal, misdemeanor offense.

Here is a letter that all residents of Boston should send to Mayor Menino. It is very adaptable to any other city – just replace the percentage of your city that supported the measure with the correct number and address the letter to your own mayor. If you live in a town, then address the letter the the appropriate official. (All contact information should be available on your city or town website).

The Honorable Thomas Menino

Mayor of Boston

1 City Hall Square, Suite 500

Boston, MA 02201-2013

Dear Mayor Menino:

I am writing to urge you to condemn any effort to recriminalize possession of marijuana in our city. While I recognize the arguments for outlawing public smoking of marijuana, I feel that any punishment should also take the form of a civil fine. When 71% of our city cast their ballots in favor of the Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, we sent a strong message that we do not believe that personal use of marijuana is a crime – hence the term decriminalized.

As it stands, smoking marijuana in public is already illegal. Violators will have the marijuana confiscated and will be punished with a $100 fine. For many in our city, $100 is already steep sum, and, if that is coupled with an additional fine for public use, few will be willing to risk such an expensive activity.

We object, therefore, to the efforts to make public use of marijuana a misdemeanor offense. We voted for the measure – by a staggering margin! – specifically to avoid the hassle and expense to the city (and therefore taxpayers) of a criminal trial. Any effort to punish public use of marijuana as a criminal offense is thus tantamount to undermining 71% of our electorate.

Please consider the implications of ignoring what more than two-thirds of this city wants. On November 4th, we became a very vocal majority, and we want to ensure that our vote matters – that possession or use of less than an ounce of marijuana be treated as a civil violation and not a criminal offense.

Sincerely,

We worked hard for this law, and let’s make sure that our cities and towns don’t try to rob us of any part of the victory we had on November 4th.

January 6, 2009 at 5:33 am Leave a comment

Massachusetts Decriminalization Takes Effect Today

Today is the day that possession of less than an ounce is decriminalized in Massachusetts. From today, possession will no longer be a criminal offense and will be punished by a $100 civil violation and confiscation of the contraband.

However, there are some things to keep in mind. Lynda M. Connolly, the Chief Justice, issued a pamphlet about the new law.

Here are some basics:

In some districts, the police are threatening not to enforce the new law altogether. They may run into some issues in court when it is revealed that they are arresting citizens for a non-criminal offense (imagine trying to handcuff someone for rolling a stop sign or forgetting to feed the meter). Still you may be best avoiding the situation altogether.

Some towns are passing bylaws making public smoking of marijuana a misdemeanor criminal offense. Because these laws vary from town, it is hard to make a blanket statement about all of them, but it is possible that some could be worded badly enough that they apply to possession in public as well. Thus, it would be advisable not to walk down the street with a dime bag in your hands.

And, keep in mind – while marijuana has been decriminalized, it has not been legalized. $100 tickets could start to add up, and while they will not create a criminal record, they nevertheless do create a viewable record. If your job (or a job you aspire to have) forbids drug use, you would be best avoiding the fine altogether.

Before, police enforced the marijuana possession law weakly. Now, as evidenced on MassCops, they will be much stricter. Be smart – lighting up a joint in the middle of the Commons (or even a back alley) is probably not a good idea.

Also, the only law that has been changed is the one regarding possession of less than an ounce. Other violations, such as possession of more than an ounce, purchase, sale, and intent to distribute, are all still criminal offenses, and the police are likely to be more strict about those offenses with this new law. Dividing up half an ounce into two or more bags could be considered intent to distribute. It would be advisable not to risk the criminal offense – don’t divide up your stash into multiple parts. And passing a joint back and forth could be considered distribution, rather than simply possession.

In other words: While the penalties for possession have decreased, the risk of heavier charges instead of possession has increased. Use the same precautions under the new law that you used under the old law.

Lastly, OUIs are still criminal offenses. Not to mention that they are dangerous. Do not take the new law as an opportunity to drive while stoned. Officers no doubt will try and charge people with OUI instead of possession even when a driver is sober. Don’t make it any easier for them.

We worked hard to decriminalize marijuana in Massachusetts on the grounds that most marijuana users are safe and responsible. This is our chance to prove that we were right – let’s make the most of it.

Remember, Legal.Now does not encourage criminal activity. (Thankfully, though, possession is no longer a criminal activity in Massachusetts!) On a serious note, though, this post is not meant to encourage readers to smoke marijuana simply because of the change in law. Rather, it is meant as a bit of guidance as to what the changes in the law mean.

January 2, 2009 at 4:02 am Leave a comment

Happy New Year from Legal.Now!

It’s the new year. Everyone has New Year’s resolutions – and we at Legal.Now are no different. So here are our resolutions – may each and every single one come to pass before 2009 is out!

1. An end to federal raids on law-abiding medicinal marijuana patients.
Under Barack Obama’s administration, this is easily the most significant and most 
accomplishable change we can expect this year. Obama has already promised to end federal 
raids of law-abiding medicinal marijuana patients, and with enough pressure from activists, he
can effect this change without any loss in political capital.


2. Proper enforcement of ‘lowest priority’ laws in districts such as Santa Cruz and Missoula County.
While ‘lowest priority’ laws are certainly commendable, reports such as the one released last month in Missoula County leave reason to doubt that they are actually being followed. When voters speak and legislation is enacted, law enforcement has an obligation to follow the legislation.
3. Successful decriminalization in Massachusetts.
Huh? Didn’t they vote on this just two months ago? Well, yes, but just because a law is on the books doesn’t mean anything actually changes.  As far as I am concerned, ‘success’ in Massachusetts will mean at least three things:
1. The law will not be repealed.
2. Violators will be charged with the appropriate offense (ie, not charged with intent to distribute when the real offense is clearly posession of a few grams in a single bag).
3. There are no negative consequences to the law (such as a sudden spike in violent crime).
4. The media does not portray the law unfavorably.
I am not particularly worried about #3, because every study shows that marijuana use is not connected to violent crime in any way. (Sale and traffiking is another matter). As for the media, while they have not been reporting the facts as faithfully as one would like, they have not been overly biased against the law either. Thus, I would expect that the media will slightly over-emphasize the possibility of negative ramifications, but not any more than they normally do. In all, as long as Massachusetts residents put enough pressure on the legislature not to repeal the law and there is enough pressure on the judicial side to enforce the law fairly, I think that the new law will be a successs.
As you can see, with these three resolutions, we have our work cut out for us, but all three are within the range of possibility. If you have any further ideas for resolutions, contact us, so that we may take proper action.
Happy new year to all!

January 1, 2009 at 3:51 am Leave a comment

Massachusetts Officials Try to Circumvent New Law

In just two days, Question 2, which decriminalizes possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in Massachusetts, takes effect. Under the new law, the violation is a ticketable, but not arrestable, offense. Police may fine offenders $100 and confiscate the marijuana, but offenders face no criminal record and no jail time.

Already, officials are trying to circumvent the new law, and the latest proposal notes that the new law allows for additional town bylaws. State officials are encouraging towns to pass bylaws to outlaw smoking marijuana in public. The problem? They are considering making this a misdemeanor offense, effectively recriminalizing the substance that 65% of the state – and every town except three – voted to decriminalize. 
NECN has decent coverage of the story.
What they fail to mention is that, depending on how the new bylaws are worded, police may be able to arrest people for possession in public places, arguing that the offender is possessing the drug in public, even if he or she is not smoking.
If your city or town is considering passing such a law, write to your local officials urging them not to recriminalize posession. In your letter, be sure to mention:
1. The percent of voters in your town that supported Question 2.
2. That public smoking, if even punishable, should not be considered a criminal offense.
3. That the fines for criminal offenses are paid to the state, whereas the fines for a civil offense are paid to the town. (This means that, if towns pass bylaws recriminalizing possession, they are robbing themselves of the revenue from fines).

December 31, 2008 at 5:34 pm Leave a comment

Marijuana Tops Second Round of Change

Of the top ten questions in the ‘Additional issues’ section, five relate to marijuana, including the top three questions from the section. 

The second most popular question under ‘National Security’ begins, ‘Our current war on drugs is failing America’. 
Clearly, marijuana policy reform is an important issue to those concerned about this administration. Massachusetts and Michigan both passed ballot initiatives to reform marijuana laws in the November elections, and these intiatives received a bigger share of the vote than Obama did.
We need to be sure that the new administration understands how strongly the country feels about this issue. Keep voting at change.gov – for those of you who haven’t already, registration is fast and painless (they don’t even send a confirmation email).

December 31, 2008 at 4:49 am Leave a comment


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