About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

November 6, 2008

Massachusetts deals with decriminalized marijuana

While the California prison guards helped defeat Prop. 5, stoners nationwide are lighting up splifs in celebration of their marijuana victories: Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to pass a medical marijuana measure. More significantly, Massachusetts passed a referendum decriminalizing possession of less than a ounce of marijuana. Possession will be a civil fine of $100. That's good (though it won't do anything to reduce drug-prohibition-related violence).

Amazingly, despite the opposition of the governor, most politicians, and all of law enforcement, the referendum was supported by 65% of voters.

Arlington Chief Frederick Ryan was stupid enough to admit that without crazy harsh penalties for marijuana, it will be harder to get people to work as police snitches. Why is Chief Ryan stupid? Because he just admitted something that is almost assuredly against his own department's regulations and perhaps illegal and unconstitutional, to boot. You see, you can't tell people to work undercover for the police and if they don't, you'll through them in jail. Of course that's what happens all the time, but it's not allowed.

Everybody knows snitches work for the police to save their own hide and shouldn't be trusted, but you're not allowed to officially offer them a quid pro quo. In theory, and legally, all confidential informants work voluntarily because they want to do the right thing.

Frank Pasquerello, a spokesman for the Cambridge Police Department, wondered whether officers will have to start carrying scales. Uh, Frank? No.

Chelsea Chief Brian Kyes, more of a thinking man, wonders what this will mean for issues of probable cause. That's a good question. I'd like to know the answer.

Boston commissioner Edward F. Davis seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He said the law should not be harder to enforce than others on the books: "I'm disappointed that it went through... but I don't think the sky is falling by any stretch of the imagination."

The whole story by David Abel of the Globe is here.


BG said...

Good point. It should also be unconstitutional to allow a plea bargain in exchange for testimony.

DJK said...

I'm stoked for the progress.... and p/c should be very interesting. This is a small step in the right direction and I look forward to other states following step.

Anonymous said...

i too am stoked about the progress. police should be focused on much more harder crime. such as senior fraud, white collar crime and gun violence. by allowing them to write a weed ticket and go on about their shift frees up time to tackle larger problems or be there when bigger problems arise. the war on drugs is a waste of money.

tax and regulate

matt mernagh

Anonymous said...

CI's can only work for police because it's the "right thing". So, you are saying they can't or it's illegal to work for money or court consideration?

PCM said...

CI's can work for whatever reason they want.

It is usually allowed (depending on the jurisdiction) to give CI's money. But this money is technically not payment for services rendered.

It is prohibited (to varying degrees at departmental, legal, and constitutional levels) for a police officer to promise, "snitch for me and I won't arrest you for drug possession."

It is prohibited for a prosecutor to say, "If you say what I want in court, we'll knock 10 years off your sentence."

It is prohibited to threaten people with longer sentences for not accepting a guilty plea and insisting on their constitutionally guaranteed right to jury trial.

So of course none of this ever happens.

Louise said...

Pete, have you seen this article about decriminalization of drug use in Vancouver?
Interesting stuff.