Monday, November 10, 2008
The district attorney and the head of the group that pushed Massachusetts voters to overwhelmingly back a huge reduction in the penalty for marijuana possession don’t agree on a lot of things.
One thing on which they do agree: Voters bought the argument that kids and adults caught with marijuana are unfairly burdened under the present law, which can saddle them with a criminal record for the rest of their lives.
Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating said that perception is, in fact, a myth, no matter what voters believed. Most first-time offenders, he said, have their cases dismissed before arraignment.
Whitney Taylor is chairwoman of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, the group largely responsible for passage this past week of the ballot question that will reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a ticket and a $100 fine. Taylor argued the punishments under the existing law have prevented respectable people from getting jobs, school loans or custody of their children.
“The current law does more harm than good,” she said in a post-election interview.
Statewide, 64 percent — nearly 2 million people — voted Tuesday to change the marijuana law, a
level that exceeded even President-elect Barack Obama’s support in the state. The measure won the support of a majority of voters in every South Shore town except Braintree, where 52 percent voted against reducing the penalty.
The new law takes effect 30 days after being reported to the Governor’s Council in November or December. It makes possession of under an ounce of marijuana punishable by a $100 civil fine. Those caught will no longer be reported to the state’s Criminal History Board.
Proponents said the broad support proves there is widespread belief – not only among marijuana smokers – that criminal penalties for personally using the drug are too harsh, and that people caught with small amounts of marijuana are unfairly haunted later. The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, with
about 500 volunteers, alone spent $1 million to persuade voters. [Mark Godsey]