(Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
Whitney Taylor, chairwoman of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, left, and Question 2 supporter Dr. John H. Halpern, associate director of substance research at McLean Hospital, celebrated after hearing that the measure passed.
By David Abel, Globe Staff
Massachusetts voters today approved a ballot initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, making getting caught with less than an ounce of pot punishable by a civil fine of $100. The change in the law means someone found carrying as many as dozens of marijuana cigarettes will no longer be reported to the state’s criminal history board.
“The people were ahead of the politicians on this issue; they recognize and want a more sensible approach to our marijuana policy,” said Whitney Taylor, chairwoman of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, which campaigned for the ballot initiative. “They want to focus our limited law enforcement resources on serious and violent crimes. They recognize under the new law that the punishment will fit the offense.”
The proposition will become law 30 days after it’s reported to the Governor’s Council, which usually meets in late November or early December. But the Legislature could amend or repeal the new law, as they've done with some prior laws passed by the voters, said Emily LaGrassa, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Martha Coakley. The Associated Press called the outcome at about 9:20 p.m.
The proposition will require those younger than age 18 to complete a drug awareness program and community service. The fine would increase to as much as $1,000 for those who fail to complete the program.
Proponents of the initiative, who spent about $1 million promoting it, argued the change in the law would maintain the state's existing penalties for growing, trafficking, or driving under the influence of marijuana, while ensuring that those caught with less than an ounce of pot would avoid the taint of a criminal record. They also argued it would save the state millions of law enforcement dollars and match similar marijuana possession laws in 12 states, all of which have adopted some form of decriminalization.
The opponents, who included the governor, attorney general, and district attorneys around the state, argued that decriminalizing marijuana possession would promote drug use and benefit drug dealers at a time when they say marijuana has become more potent. They warned it would increase violence on the streets and safety hazards in the workplace, and cause the number of car crashes to rise as more youths drive under the influence.
The opponents said that most of those charged with marijuana possession are arrested for other reasons, such as driving under the influence or possessing a more potent drug like crack cocaine. They also said most people arrested for marijuana possession have their records cleared within six months.