To the Editor:
As Question 2 is being implemented across the state, opponents just can’t resist clamoring that the new law reducing penalties for adult possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will somehow cause the sky to fall.
The law isn’t nearly as complicated as some suggest, nor does it tie the hands of law enforcement officers or local officials. For example, it has been reported that under Question 2, smoking marijuana in public is now just a civil offense (“New pot law poses question on enforcement,” Martha’s Vineyard Times, January 8, 2009). This is incorrect.
The public use of marijuana was not specifically a crime before Question 2 took effect, because it wasn’t needed – offenders were simply arrested for possession.
But there is nothing in Question 2 to prevent towns and cities from enacting ordinances making public use an offense. In fact, Question 2 specifically reserves that right to localities. They merely need to ensure they do so in a manner that doesn’t conflict with the intent of Question 2.
Question 2 will work. It is already working where officials are making an honest effort at implementation. But for those still fighting the new law, refusing to respect the will of 65 percent of Massachusetts voters will backfire long before the provisions of Question 2 do.
Editor’s Note: In a telephone conversation, Nathan Miller, who is an attorney, said there is a legal distinction between “smoking” and “possessing” marijuana in public. Though he agrees that smoking is by definition possession, he contends it is inaccurate to write that it “is now only a civil offense to smoke marijuana in public.” We disagree. While Mr. Miller points out police could arrest someone for violating a town ordinance prohibiting disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, or public intoxication, in the view of police interviewed for The Martha’s Vineyard Times article, no one could be arrested on a charge of possessing marijuana in quantities of less than an ounce, in public or anywhere else. Under current state or local laws, such persons could only be cited for a civil violation.