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?
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.