Massachusetts Law Enforcement: Sour Grapes and Sore Losers

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director December 27, 2008

    It brings me no joy to point out that some of the leaders of the law enforcement community in my home state of Massachusetts have apparently lost their minds in anticipation of a minor change in criminal law that will soon formalize the decriminalization of a small amount of cannabis. I say ‘formalize’ because for all intent and purposes cannabis was already largely ‘decriminalized’ in the Bay State. However, the laws and sanctions were applied nilly-willy, with no consistency town to town, cop to cop, and at great costs to the state’s taxpayers.

    In the last few days, led in the media by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, Massachusetts media outlets–and now even National Public Radio–have picked up on the absurd arguments recently advanced by the losing side of the November statewide election to decriminalize cannabis that: employment drug testing is now in jeopardy, police will be able to use cannabis anytime they want and that if police confront a cannabis consumer seeking to write them a ticket for possessing and/or using cannabis and the individual refuses to produce an ID, police will have pot smoke blown in their face by sneering, goading cannabis users fearless of receiving a fine.

    All are untrue.

    How do I know? Duh. Look around people…almost 100 million Americans live in a state or municipality that have had decriminalized cannabis possession laws on the books for decades (From west to east: AK, OR, CA, NV, CO, NE, MS, OH, NC, NY and ME). Do these states unfortunately still have employee drug testing? Are police sanctioned in these states to consume cannabis without drug testing and fear of job loss? Do police seek and receive citizens’ IDs before writing them a citation for cannabis? Did these states contribute to the ever-increasing arrest rates for cannabis consumers?

    You betcha!

    Listen to the NPR story from yesterday, December 26, to get the flavor of the MDAA’s unfounded timidity.

    Now, the way Massachusetts law enforcement is acting is not new for the profession that gets away with the whopper that ‘they don’t make the laws, they only enforce them’.

    In fact a cursory review of the history of cannabis law reform in America readily demonstrates that when these important and long overdue reforms occur by popular voter initiative–rather than by the legislative process–law enforcement tend to strongly resist the will of the voters, seek ways to obfuscate the voters’ will, set up dilatory tactics to fully implement the changes sought by citizens, and in some odd and bizarre cases, such as in cannabis unfriendly San Diego, where law enforcement and city officials continuously seek federal intervention that will prohibit them from implementing their own citizens’ will, effectively abdicating their local authority. (This is truly bizarre behavior for a large municipality, especially in otherwise cannabis tolerant California).

    Truth be told that the Massachusetts initiative could have been better worded in numerous ways, notably regarding law enforcement’s complaint regarding compelling confronted offenders to produce a valid ID card for the purposes of citation issuance. However, what Massachusetts law enforcement fails to acknowledge in their ‘the sky is going to fall’ scenario if the Bay State formalizes cannabis decriminalization is that the Massachusetts legislature can amend voter initiative, and if need be, can readily amend the popularly passed cannabis decriminalization initiative (65% voter approval rate!) to compel citizens confronted by law enforcement of possessing cannabis to show a valid ID–just like the way tens of millions of citizens suspected of cannabis-related offenses and law enforcement have been conducting themselves since Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis possession in 1973.

    What I fear is that during the upcoming legislative session where amending the recently passed decriminalization initiative is likely to happen is that prohibition-leaning elected policy makers, under strong lobbying pressure from the Massachusetts law enforcement community (and the federal government’s drug czar, a.k.a Office of National Drug Control Policy) will seek to effectively gut the decriminalization initiative and stiff the 65% of voters who loudly called for the state to formalize and make functional a statewide decriminalization model for adult possession of cannabis.

    Cannabis law reform advocates, especially in Massachusetts, need to be ever vigilant going into this 2009 legislative session and make sure that law enforcement and prosecutors live up to their claims that they don’t make the laws, they only enforce them.

    28 responses to “Massachusetts Law Enforcement: Sour Grapes and Sore Losers”

    1. Jake C. says:

      How do we in Massachusetts make sure that they don’t effectively shoot down this new law? What should we do?

    2. Why this matters says:


      Why does this matter? Because it’s an all-or-nothing deal. The cops are mad at voters’ efforts, and already they plan on ‘cutting no more breaks’ in revenge. If this law is repealed, marijuana will no longer even be ‘effectively’ decriminalized in Massachusetts.

      The Sensible Marijuana Policy Project put it all on the line with this new bill – kudos to them. Now let’s make sure we don’t lose it all!

    3. Jeff T says:

      Drug testing in jepordy, I run a large retail store, I have 10 employes, with full health care. Any new job applicants are asked if they do or have smoked marijuana. If the answer is no, I do not want them, They are lying to me. I have stopped all hazardous materials sales (Industrial fertilizer) And have gone all organic. So we are not required to drug test.

    4. Fred Hapgood says:

      There is one issue here that strikes me as potentially
      a big deal, at least in this state: getting the ID
      of those being fined for possession. The legislators are going to be asking what a police officer does if a guy possessing a joint refuses to identify himself, which he or she is now allowed to do (unless operating a vehicle).

      Society solved this problem in the context of traffic by requiring people to carry and present drivers’ licenses. I do not think the legislature is going
      to follow that precedent — requiring people possessing marijuana to carry and present on demand a pot possessing license — here. Another alternative
      is require everyone to carry and present ID, but that would be truly radical.

      The only other option is for the state to throw up its hands and accept that the law is unenforceable, except
      perhaps when possession occurs in the context of operating a motor vehicle. I suppose they could do
      this, but they aren’t going to like it much.

    5. Anonymous says:

      Listen to the people for once, is it really that big of a deal. Honestly who cares if cops smoke weed, as long as they aren’t on duty.

    6. Jim Swanner says:

      The Ma. State police has two set of rules. One for them and one for everyone else. I can tell you that i expect them to try not to enforce the new law. They wont even investigate a car theif or buglary !! They’re only interested in tickets that produce revenue so they can justify getting more cops. ( DUI)( traffic)etc.
      I do look forward to the day, when a pothead can still work at wal-mart !! Ha !! How stupid and cruel !! What’s going on with a new test to confirm that a person is stoned. I could understand that you don’t want me stoned on your time, but because i got stoned a few days ago, i’m gonna lose my job ?? I don’t think so !! When a cop, Dr., Lawyers, you name it, they don’t have to test. Personally, i would feel confortable with my Dr. getting stoned, but not just before he’s gonna cut me open. I don’t have a problem with a cop being stoned, as long as he’s not stoned on duty. I was a truck driver for 30 yrs. and i must have had 50 random drug tests. What a crock of shit that was, and i smoked a lot of those yrs. and never failed one. But like i say, that driver should’nt be running down the road stoned either. We need a test that’s fair !! But i should be able to smoke on my time off !!
      Thanks for sending me this flyer !! Now i’m gonna go tote up !! If you know a trucking Co. that don’t drug test, plese inform me !! Ha !! I’m a great driver. 3 million miles, and not one accident !! But a pothead i am !!

    7. mntnman says:

      Could Mass voters also pass a ‘lowest priority” measure to ensure the cops follow the law?
      I have seen many comments by Mass cops threatening revenge by citing people for things they would normally let go.

    8. mntnman says:

      Years ago ,Kevin Zeese of NORML sent me a report done by the state of Maine Attorney General on the impact of a decriminalization law passed a year earlier in ’77.
      The findings were that the state had gone from spending hundreds of thousands on arrest,prosecution and incarceration…to actually making a profit for the state in just one year.

      The report concluded that decriminalization was…”A model of good government reform”

      These Masshole cops need a showdown with LEAP.

    9. This would be a good time to begin a campaign to educate the legislators about cannabis. That way when they start their next session and an amendment comes up – which I believe to be likely – they’ll have the benefit of just having finished updating their knowledge of the plant, prohibition, and its costs.

    10. Patricia says:

      “Cannabis law reform advocates, especially in Massachusetts, need to be ever vigilant going into this 2009 legislative session and make sure that law enforcement and prosecutors live up to their claims that they don’t make the laws, they only enforce them.”

      I think it’s also important to start holding the federal government accountable for perpetrating what amounts to scientific fraud.

      As an example I point to the recent interview with Dr. Elsohly in the science section of the New York Times.

      I think this continued conflation of “marijuana seized” with “marijuana smoked” back in the sixties amounts to scientific fraud.

      There’s an accountability issue here like there is with law enforcement. Scientists are supposed to inform the public, not mislead the public.

      It’s a dreadful day when a science reporter is helping a scientist mislead the public.

      This war is a cancer eating away at the very institutions that allow a modern democracy to sustain itself.