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Police step one toke over the line by busting mere pot smokers

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  April 5, 2013 05:17 PM

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Common sense scored a victory today when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in two cases that sharing a joint does not constitute drug “distribution” under the criminal laws of the Commonwealth.

At first glance, the facts of the cases are amusing. In one, plain clothes cops at the 2010 “Boston Freedom Rally” – also known as the “Hempfest” to legalize marijuana – saw three guys on a park bench smoking a marijuana cigarette. Maybe the hemp-festers knew that Massachusetts voters in 2008 overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative making the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense – like a parking ticket – rather than a crime.

Realizing that simply possessing pot is no longer a crime in Massachusetts, however, the cops waited until the bench-sitters passed the joint and – aha! – busted them for “distribution” and proceed to search and arrest them.

The facts got considerably less amusing – and downright scary for the bench-sitters -- when prosecutors decided to press criminal charges. Suddenly, the hemp-festers were facing two years in prison.

I know, I know – in your day, as in mine, pot-smokers considered it a crime not to pass a joint – remember “bogarting”? The urban dictionary says the term refers to the famous actor Humphrey Bogart, who always kept a cigarette dangling from his lips, and didn’t share. It may have been cool when Bogart did it, but it has always been considered bad manners among the pot-smokers I’ve known.

Etiquette aside, it seems to me that smoking alone – just like drinking alone – generally is a bad sign. Fortunately, the Supreme Judicial Court declined to read the decriminalization law as protecting only lonely and secretive smoking, noting: “We do not read [the law] so narrowly as to protect only the solitary marijuana user from warrantless searches, particularly in light of the recognition that marijuana is often used in groups.”

Massachusetts voters know that, while pot-smoking – like drinking – certainly can make you stupid, it doesn’t make you a criminal. So why are cops still wasting their time, and our tax dollars, trolling the Hempfest for three guys sharing a joint on a park bench? My guess is three stoned guys on a park bench are a pretty easy mark if you want to find someone to bust.

Hopefully, today’s court rulings will encourage police officers to focus on serious crimes instead of wasting their time and our tax dollars busting people for sharing marijuana.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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