Massachusett's DAs don't like Prop 2

| Comments (3) | Misc
Today on NPR's All Things Considered, I heard a segment on Massachussetts Proposition 2, which decriminalized Marijuana possession ($100 civil fine for amounts less than one ounce).
All Things Considered, December 26, 2008 ยท As of Jan. 2, being caught with less than an ounce of pot in Massachusetts will result only in a $100 civil fine. District Attorney David F. Capeless, president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, says the law has many loopholes and is in its present form, in effect, legalization of marijuana.

Note: Capeless was the only guest. They didn't have anyone in favor of Prop 2, and the host just took whatever he said at face value. Always nice to see NPR believes in objective coverage.

Anyway, the complaints appear to be as follows:

  1. That there's no ID requirement so if you get caught with marijuana, you can just lie and avoid the fine.
  2. The law specifically prohibits the state from penalizing police, bus drivers, etc. for using marijuana.

I'm not saying either of these is untrue but so what? There are other actions (e.g., jaywalking, not having a light on your bicycle), which are nominally forbidden but where as a practical matter the cops aren't likely to haul you to jail if you don't have ID. More likely they'll just take your word for who you are, write you a ticket and let you go. Capeless suggests that this is a "loophole" but really it seems pretty sensible to me. If you have some action with a maximum $100 fine, it doesn't make a lot of sense to haul people off just because they can't prove their identity to your satisfaction. The complaint about stopping the state from punishing people who smoke pot seems even less well founded. I didn't follow the coverage of prop 2, but I doubt that's some unintended consequence. Rather, if you think that smoking pot is like speeding or overstaying your parking meter, why would it disqualify someone from being a police officer, bus driver, or owning a gun. As far as I can tell, the truth of the matter is that the Mass DAs don't like marijuana and wish prop 2 had never passed (this isn't just speculation, here, for instance is an article about the Essex County DA opposing prop 2).

While we're on the topic, who cares what the DAs and Police think about drug control policy? Their job is to arrest and prosecute people who break the law, but this doesn't give them any special insight into what the effect of what some proposed loosening in the laws would be. As a practical matter, their bias seems to be towards "law and order", i.e., stuff should be illegal. Hovav Shacham forwarded me a particularly egregious example: the police in California asking the DEA to help them crack down on medical marijuana, which is legal under California law but not US law.

3 Comments

I strongly disagree with your point about the police. Because they're responsible for enforcing laws--including minor ones, such as speed limit and parking violations--they ought to be held accountable for scrupulous observance of them--again, including minor ones--lest the enforcers, and by implication the laws themselves, fall into disrepute.

I may be wrong, but something tells me that if the law were one you felt differently about--if, say, off-duty police officers were allowed to violate technical fourth-amendment restrictions on information gathering with impunity--then you'd be a bit less dismissive of the leeway given police officers.

I'm not suggesting that officers not be held accountable for failing to observe
the law. If they get caught speeding, violating parking laws, possessing pot, etc.
that they not be penalized. They can pay the fine like anyone else. What I'm
saying is that it's not a disqualifying factor from them being police officers.
Are you suggesting that if a policy officer gets a parking ticket they should be
suspended from the force?

There are degrees of severity even for minor offenses, and at some point, they can start to call into question the offender's judgment. A police officer who is, for instance, a serious or habitual off-duty speeder should, I think, be subject to disciplinary measures. Ditto for, say, repeated marijuana use.

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