This 2008 statement does not reflect my current views. I support the 2016 ballot question to legalize marijuana — it’s time to get on with it.
But the truth is that the anti-marijuana hysteria of the 1930s gave way to a
sensible policy long ago. Question Two is poorly conceived and would likely
do more harm than good.
Possession of marijuana already carries a minimal penalty under
Massachusetts law. The law provides that a possessor be placed on probation
and then that the charges should be dismissed and the records sealed.
In practice, many busy courts don’t even bother with the probation and
dismiss marijuana charges outright on the day they are brought.
People now in their 40s or 50s grew up grew around the peak of the drug
epidemic in the 70s and 80s. National data show that most of us tried
marijuana and a majority tried at least one other drug.
Given that marijuana experience is so widespread among those doing the
hiring today, a youthful marijuana charge is not a real career impediment,
even in the exceptional case that the employer is able to discover the
So, the change worked by the proposal, making possession a civil offense
punishable by fine, appears minor and initially I didn’t have a strong
feeling about the question.
I was planning to vote no because I believe that the proposal sends a
pro-drug message that is not helpful in our efforts to reduce substance
abuse. I am also concerned that the proposal would expose more people to
harmful second-hand smoke.
But a closer read shows that the proposal goes too far.
It would decriminalize possession of a full ounce of marijuana, several
dozen joints, and even possession of a full ounce of THC, the active
ingredient of marijuana which equates to several pounds of marijuana.
Dealers selling joints could keep their on-hand supply under one ounce and
pose as users if searched.
Further, the proposal restricts penalties for use of marijuana as detected
by drug testing.
The fine print states: ‘As used herein, “possession of one ounce or less of
marihuana” includes possession of one ounce or less of marihuana or
tetrahydrocannabinol and having cannabinoids or cannibinoid metabolites in
the urine, blood, saliva, sweat, hair, fingernails, toe nails or other
tissue or fluid of the human body.’
The act prohibits any form of punishment for “possession one ounce or less
of marihuana” other than the civil fines provided in the act itself. It
holds harmless “existing” personnel policies, but would operate to prevent
new policies involving drug testing of public safety and transportation
workers for marijuana.
Finally, the act gives short shrift to the problem of ticket
other civil fines are built into the framework of owning a motor vehicle;
licensing and registration requirements enforce collection. But there is no
real reason to expect kids ticketed for marijuana use to provide accurate
identification information that could be the basis of enforcement, which,
even with good information would be cumbersome. The proposal would leave
very little in place to discourage marijuana use.
The proposal also distracts from serious efforts to address the real
problems in our drug policy: Unduly long prison sentences for cocaine and
heroin dealing and poor treatment quality.
Every year, we incarcerate thousands of young men for the crime of dealing
heroin or cocaine. These dangerous drugs should remain illegal, but there is
room to lighten up on our sentencing. We’re locking people up for too long.
This over-punishment is expensive for the taxpayers.
At the same time, we offer drug users relatively little in the way of high
quality treatment. The system is badly underfunded and sadly unaccountable
for results. Drug users need help to get well and often have no where good
There’s a lot to improve in our drug policies. But decriminalization of
marijuana substantially happened long ago. And Question Two is poorly
conceived and would do real damage.