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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Girding for new marijuana law, state offers enforcement tips

Police officers should issue tickets, similar to a building code citation, to anyone possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, under an advisory released by the state yesterday recommending ways to manage the law decriminalizing possession of the drug.

The law is effective Jan 2.

Violators may appeal the citation - a civil infraction - in court within 21 days or pay the $100 fine set by the statute. Municipalities would be responsible for collecting the fines, according to the recommendations.

With much confusion over how police should handle marijuana possession, ranging from enforcement measures to whether officers themselves can be punished for using the drug, the state's Executive Office of Public Safety and Security released the seven pages of guidelines hoping to set a clear standard before the law takes effect Friday.

The guidelines, which are not binding, were issued even as aspects of the law continue to trigger new questions - such as whether people who smoke marijuana in public face only the civil fine as punishment.

"It gives some people guidance so that they can move forward, so that we can eliminate any confusion as to how this statute is meant to be applied, and alleviate any concerns," said Kevin M. Burke, secretary of Public Safety and Security.

The recommendations also unveiled new interpretations of the initiative petition, similar to acts passed in 13 states, that was approved overwhelmingly by voters in November. Not only is possessing an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense, but the same amount of any substance - including hashish, or hash oil - with the active ingredient THC would also be decriminalized.

In addition, the state is asking communities to consider passing local ordinances criminalizing the use of marijuana in public, which, as of Friday, would not warrant any punishment beyond the civil citation. [Mark Godsey]

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