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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

DAs fight bid to ease penalty for marijuana

As a student at Stonehill College, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley found himself in a room with guys passing around a bong. "When it came to me, I inhaled so hard that it burned my lungs," he says. "I don't want to sound Clintonesque; I inhaled, but I couldn't handle it."

Gerry Leone, Middlesex district attorney, also admits to smoking pot. "It was years ago, when I was a young man," he said. "I tried it once, and it wasn't something I was ever into."

Michael O'Keefe, district attorney for the Cape and Islands, would only hint at his past: "Like a lot of people in my generation, we did a lot of things that were unwise, unhealthy, and illegal," he says.

The prosecutors - who would have faced obstacles to attaining their law enforcement positions had they been caught - are now among the leading opponents of a proposition on the Nov. 4 ballot that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. They argue that the initiative would send the wrong message and lead to a host of social problems.

Proponents argue, however, that if the question passed, possession of small amounts would remain illegal but would no longer tarnish someone's future.

Under state law, those convicted of possessing even a small amount of marijuana now face up to six months in jail, a fine of $500, and a lifelong criminal record that may be available to potential employers, housing agencies, and student loan providers. In 2006, 6,902 people were arrested in Massachusetts for marijuana possession - more than 38 percent of all the drug arrests in the state that year, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. [Mark Godsey]

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