Editorial: Question 2: A solution in search of a problem
In the bigger picture, there certainly are more pressing issues than criminally prosecuting those who privately use marijuana.
We think, however, that Question 2 asking voters to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of pot in order to relieve juveniles and adults of criminal records for misdemeanors is the wrong way to go about solving the problem.
We do not believe marijuana is any more a gateway to harder drugs than alcohol or tobacco are. We do believe, though, this is a gateway effort, if successful, to legalizing or decriminalizing other drugs and that is a door we would not like to see opened.
Under the proposed law, anyone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana would receive a civil citation for $100. There are no escalating penalties or punishment for subsequent violations.
The marijuana possession laws currently on the books in Massachusetts are not draconian. Under mandatory sentencing guidelines, first-time offenders have their cases continued without a finding and, after six months, the charges are dismissed and there is no record. There are also diversion classes for adults that require drug education and community service.
Backers of the question rightfully point out there is no juvenile diversion when a minor is caught with marijuana. That, however, can be changed in the Legislature and we would urge lawmakers to do just that.
Those arguing for decriminalization also claim even an arrest generates a Criminal Offender Record. But the CORI law specifically prohibits private citizens, employers or other non-governmental agencies from accessing records of someone not convicted of a felony or who hasn’t gone through the corrections system. Reforming CORI should not be through decriminalizing a drug.
The backers also point out the cost of policing marijuana use, citing one economic study that determined the state spends about $29.5 million a year on arrest and booking those charged with possessing less than ounce. With 7,500 people charged with that offense each year in Massachusetts, that works out to be nearly $4,000 for each person. We find that figure hard to accept for simply processing an arrest.
There are many actions we do as teens we’d never want to be judged on later in life, such as shoplifting. But the solution is not to allow children to steal candy.
Marijuana is a mind- and mood-altering substance that affects cognitive abilities and reasoning. It also has harmful physical effects much like tobacco.
While many argue tobacco is legal, we’d have to wonder what its status would be if what we know about its harmful effects were on the table with lawmakers or voters deciding its fate. And, in fact, some states have harsher penalties for minors buying cigarettes than we would for possession of marijuana, should this question pass.
Question 2 just goes too far for an activity that affects, by even supporters best estimates, roughly 12 percent of the state’s residents. As one district attorney rightfully said, it is a solution in search of a problem.
The Patriot Ledger