Editorial: Vote 'Yes' on Question 2
Possession of even the smallest amount of marijuana is illegal in all 50 states, and has been since 1938. That hasn't stopped Americans from using the drug. Estimates gauge the number of adults that have smoked marijuana as high as 100 million. A federal study a few years back concluded that 12 percent of Boston area residents had used marijuana in the past month.
What the laws against simple possession of marijuana have done is subject millions of Americans to the mercies of the criminal justice system. More than 6,900 people were arrested for marijuana possession in Massachusetts in 2006. Across the country, hundreds of thousands have been fined or incarcerated; millions more have had to pay legal costs to defend themselves. Many have lost jobs or been denied employment because of their criminal records. Some have been evicted from public housing and many have lost access to college loans and scholarships.
In 11 states, those consequences have been tempered by state laws that classify simple possession of small amounts of marijuana as a civil offense, punishable by a fine, instead of a criminal offense carrying the possibility of a prison sentence. In those states - as varied as California, Mississippi, Ohio, Maine and Nebraska - decriminalization dates back as much as 30 years.
If voters approve Question 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot, Massachusetts would join those other states. Adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana would be considered a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $100. For minors, the penalty would also include community service and substance abuse education. Laws against drug trafficking and driving under the influence of marijuana will remain unchanged.
Question 2 opponents, led by the states' district attorneys, argue that decriminalization will "send the wrong message" to youth, resulting in more drug abuse, crime and motor vehicle accidents. It is a refrain as old as drug prohibition, but it is not backed up with facts. Researchers have found no difference in drug use, crime or accidents in the 11 states that have decriminalized marijuana possession.
It is not in the power of Massachusetts voters to replace the war on drugs with policies that are more effective in reducing organized crime, preventing drug abuse or treating addiction. But they can take a step toward a rational approach to substance abuse by distinguishing a mild, non-addictive intoxicant from hard drugs that are far more destructive and addictive. It's time to make the punishment fit the crime. We urge a "Yes" vote on Question 2.
The MetroWest Daily News