DA speaks out against marijuana decriminalization

Sarah Menesale

Mary Jane, pot, weed, ganga — call it what you want, but Massachusetts voters will decide on a burning issue in the Nov. 4 election that’s caused quite a stir between advocates and opponents of current marijuana laws in the commonwealth.

Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett talked about his opposition to Question 2 — which would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana — at a meeting Friday morning with reporters and editors in Beverly. His opinions differ sharply with those of Georgetown’s Steve Epstein, a well-known local advocate of reducing the penalties for marijuana possession.

“Ballot Question 2 would undoubtedly have a negative effect on children. It will facilitate young people smoking grass,” Blodgett said.

Blodgett focused on what decriminalization would mean and the dangers of marijuana during the informal question-and-answer session.

“There’s no question this is a baby step [for supporters]. Their ultimate goal is the legalization of drugs,” he said of Question 2, which he said is being backed by Hungarian-born American financial guru and political activist George Soros.

If Question 2 passes, it is binding legislation and will go into effect eight weeks after the election.

Question 2 on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot asks voters to approve or deny a proposed law that would, “replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties, to be enforced by issuing citations, and would exclude information regarding this civil offense from the state’s criminal record information system.”

Offenders age 18 or older would be subject to forfeiture of the marijuana plus a civil penalty of $100. Their parents would also be notified of the offense and the option to complete a drug awareness program. Offenders under the age of 18 would be subject to the same forfeiture and, if they complete a drug awareness program within one year of the offense, the same $100 penalty.

The proposed law would define possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as including possession of one ounce or less of tetrahydrocannibinol (“THC”), or having metabolized products of marijuana or THC in one’s body.

A YES vote would replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties. A NO vote would make no change in state criminal laws concerning possession of marijuana. The money received from the new civil penalties would go to the city or town where the offense occurred.

“I would have a better debate with you if the fine was $2,000. It would be a more serious discussion. Don’t tell me a $100 fine isn’t going to be a joke for people who can afford to buy an ounce,” Blodgett said, noting that an ounce of marijuana typically sells for $300 to $600.

He added, “I don’t want the guy next to me drunk on I-95. And I don’t want the guy next to me on 95 stoned.”