Marijuana Legalization Laws Tested

In November 2008, Massachusetts voters approved a marijuana decriminalization law, which states in part that people found in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana will not be charged with a criminal offense, but instead will receive a ticket for a civil violation. (Voters Approve Marijuana Law Change)

According to a recent inquiry by the Boston Globe, there has been only one marijuana citation issued in Massachusetts since the law went into effect on January 2nd, 2009 (Marijuana decriminalization law goes into effect). A man from Holyoke was cited for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana, but because of the new law, he will not face criminal charges for this. However, he was arrested and charged for possessing large quantities of additional drugs with intent to distribute.

Just as with the above case, many arrests involving the possession of marijuana are in combination with the confiscation of other drugs. At this time, some Massachusetts law enforcement officers are still working out the process for handling marijuana possession, including whether or not to issue a ticket.

Read the full boston.com article on Marijuana Possession Laws in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is the 12th state to put the decriminalization law into effect. Based on the law’s effect in the 11 other states, there is expected to be little change in marijuana usage rates and possession in Massachusetts.

Commentary by Criminal Attorney Francis T. O’Brien Jr.

There is great confusion surrounding the implementation of the marijuana decriminalization law. First and foremost, the new law does not legalize marijuana. It merely provides that persons who possess one ounce or less of marijuana will not face jail sentences but rather will face monetary fines for civil violations. However, it must be remembered that the police still have the right to stop a person who is observed to be in possession of marijuana, to confiscate the marijuana, and obtain identification from the person.

Very often an encounter with a police officer who is investigating the possession of marijuana will result in more and more significant evidence being seized and criminal charges being brought. This is similar to situations where persons who are traveling with illegal drugs in their automobile, and are stopped by police for commission of some moving violation, such as speeding, defective equipment, et cetera. While the moving violation itself is civil in nature and punishable only by a fine, as with now decriminalized marijuana possession, the police officer may make observations which lead him to believe that the operator has committed a crime or is in possession of illegal items.

Often, this results in a seizure. It is critical that a defendant in a criminal case be represented by an attorney who has knowledge and experience in defending cases involving search and seizure. A criminal defendant should have and attorney who understands the constitutional parameters of police stops and seizures of evidence which arise from investigations into civil infractions.