72°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Time to Pass the Pot Law?

It is getting to be the time of the year when people start focus on political issues. While nationally people ponder the presidential race, we in Massachusetts have some local issues to hash out. In every election year there are ballot initiatives that community groups push onto ballots, through public signatures, that become questions answered by voters. There are three questions on the ballot this upcoming election. I’ve decided to focus on the question with, to me, the most intrigue: should marijuana be decriminalized?

There are not many topics in society today that raise as much emotion as marijuana does. This is what fascinates me regarding this topic. Who is leading the charge? Why is there so much passion dedicated to it? What’s the point? Well, I’ve done my research and I am going to present to you what I believe in and why.

The civic group that has led the initiative into decriminalizing marijuana is the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy. The group’s website describes the committee as “a grassroots organization devoted to passing Question 2, a marijuana decriminalization initiative that will appear on Massachusetts’ November 2008 ballot.”

Initially, CSMP needed to collect over 66,593 certified signatures to allow the proposal to be considered by the legislature. Once the legislature decided against considering the initiative for a vote, another 11,099 signatures needed to be collected for the petition to advance onto the ballot. The group actually exceeded the second amount. The group has also raised approximately $649,000, with ultra rich liberal George Soros contributing $400,000.

The motivation for the group’s challenge to the current laws is simple: sensibility. Currently, if a person is arrested for possession of marijuana of an ounce or less, they will incur pretty serious penalties, including a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. Further consequences include being entered in the state’s CORI system, which makes it more difficult to obtain a job, housing and loans. Whitney A. Taylor, chairwoman of the group, was quoted by the Boston Globe last year stating the initiative is a “common-sense policy that is going to save $24.3 million a year in arrests and booking charges by creating a civil penalty system”

What CSMP is proposing is a less serious penalty that will not tie up the court system or damage people’s lives over a simple infraction. The new law, which would be enacted if this initiative passes, states that if a person, above the age of 18 is caught with an ounce or less, they will incur a $100 fine, forfeiture of the marijuana, and will not be recorded in the CORI system. If a person under 18 years old is caught with marijuana, they will face those penalties noted above, their parents would be notified, and then they will have to enter a drug awareness program. This small part of the law is what the group is intending to change. The same laws and penalties will apply if someone is caught selling it, growing it, or trafficking.

What the group presents as the benefits of the law changing are: saving Massachusetts $29.5 million per year in law enforcement resources that are currently wasted on low-level marijuana possession arrests, according to a 2008 report by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron. Being caught with marijuana would not affect a person’s ability to obtain jobs, housing, and school loans. Currently there are about 2.8 million CORI records on file for a population of 6 million. Lastly, the group presents that small convictions have been shown to have little or no impact on drug use.

When it comes to changing a drug law, of course there is going to be opposition by law enforcement and public officials. The Coalition to Save Our Streets is a committee, made up of Massachusetts’ eleven district attorneys and other public officials, formed to battle the initiative. They believe that this effort to change the law is “an attempt to eventually decriminalize drugs, starting with marijuana.” They are also fearful that it will lead to higher use of marijuana among teenagers, which will act as a gateway to lead to the abuse of hardcore drugs, such as cocaine. The coalition has not raised much money, in comparison to CSMP, raising $27,670 against the committee’s six figure fund.

After reading the facts and stances of each group fighting for and against this initiative, it was easy for me to come to a conclusion. It is tough for me to agree with any issue that George Soros is involved in, however, the decision to challenge this law is an absolute no-brainer. I recommend that my fellow citizens vote in favor of changing this law.

Let’s not be blind to reality: people are going to smoke weed, whether there is a law or not. Most of the time, it is done in a safe and responsible environment. The passing of the petition is not going to lead to the widespread use of marijuana in the open public, just as the passing of gay marriage hasn’t turned everybody gay. The current penalties allow for the ruining of a person’s future in regards to being recorded in the CORI system. Twenty years in the future, if I need a loan and can’t obtain one because I was caught smoking a joint or holding a gram when I was fifteen, I’m going be furious. The economics of the law would free more funds to be allocated to other parts of law enforcement for more serious crimes. The criminal justice system would be less packed, leading to a more efficient system. The reasons above are why eleven states decriminalized the statute of carrying a small amount of marijuana. 21st century society is more educated and independent than past generations. It is time to change the law to reflect that.