Drug Law

Cambridge, Mass. Moves to Increase Marijuana Penalties

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Massachusetts has enjoyed the decriminalization of marijuana for a year now. Citizens who are caught with an ounce or less of the substance are issued a citation that includes a $100 fine. Now the Police Commissioner of Cambridge has proposed two additional ordinances he thinks are necessary to ban public consumption of marijuana and to fine individuals who provide a false identity to a police officer when being issued a citation for marijuana possession.

Cambridge police say the new ordinances are necessary to respond to what they are claiming is a significant increase in public use of marijuana in the city of Cambridge, the fourth most populous city in the state. The police are claiming that trying to control the problem has been challenging since the state law changed. According to Dan Rivello, a police spokesman, police officers in Cambridge are having difficulty enforcing citations for possession of less than an ounce because state law offers no legal recourse against an individual who refuses to give his or her name, or gives a fake name and address.  Rivello calls the situation “highly problematic” in enforcing the new law.

In an email, he said the efforts to enact ordinances in Cambridge are aimed at enforcing the fine associated with the law and dealing with the quality of life issues that surround public consumption of marijuana. He goes on to say that obtaining a verifiable name and address is essential in ensuring that offenders comply with the law, and for the police to enforce the civil fine. The new proposed public consumption ordinance would be fine $300 for each offense, if a violator gives a false name, then they will be slapped with an additional fine of $200, both of these fines would be added to the $100 state fine for possession.

Opponents of the suggested fee increase say that adding more fees will not change the popularity of using marijuana and it goes against the intent of the voters who voted in the state wide law making marijuana a civil offense only. Michael Crawford, a Cambridge resident and President of MassCann: the Mass.Cannabis Reform Coalition, said the police need to have more scientific evidence and hard facts than those stated in the report to back up their claims that marijuana usage is becoming more of a problem in Cambridge. Crawford, who attended the first public hearing on the proposed ordinances said that is seems more like the police are trying to make a political case.

The police did use a September 2010 report for crime statistics, and although the citations for possession of one ounce or less has gone up, the increases are modest and the citations are still few. Juvenile cited has gone up from five in 2009 to 13 so far this year. Adult citations in Cambridge in 2009 only numbered 21, and so far in 2010 they have 15, a number that the Cambridge police department says is on track to surpass last years numbers. A modest increase if you are using percentages, but still overall small numbers to enact public policy over.