Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pointless Anti-Marijuana Laws

As one of the many people who support drug legalization--particularly of marijuana--I was of course pleased last November when the voters in Massachusetts decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Sure, I would have rather seen pot legalized (and taxed), but it was a good first step.

Of course, not everyone agrees. As this AP article from 4/20 (coincidence?) points out, there are a number of local cities and towns that have passed anti-marijuana laws since that time.
Voters in November decriminalized possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, and replaced the maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine with a $100 civil fine and forfeiture of the drug. The new law does not require a suspected offender to provide identification.

Since then, seven communities — Duxbury, Lynn, Medway, Methuen, Milford, Salem and Springfield — have passed bylaws regulating or prohibiting marijuana use in public. Others are considering similar measures.
This is just baffling to me.

Question 2 didn't legalize marijuana, it decriminalized possession of an ounce or less. That's a pretty major difference. Marijuana possession is still illegal, you just face a fine and confiscation of the drug instead of potentially going to jail.

It's a bit baffling that law enforcement officials don't seem to understand this fact. Of course, it's probable that they do understand it, and are simply using it as a red herring for their power-grab.
“If I’m driving down Main Street in Springfield, and I see a guy drinking a can of Budweiser and a guy smoking a joint, the only guy I can lock up is the beer drinker,” Springfield Police Sgt. John Delaney said. “It seemed only natural to pass a law to keep people from smoking marijuana in public.”
Perhaps that's all technically true. You can't "lock up" a guy for smoking a joint on the street. You can fine them $100 and seize their pot, which seems like a pretty effective way to get them to stop smoking it, in public and elsewhere.

I also question the wisdom of locking up somebody for drinking a beer in public. Make them stop, sure, but why the hell would you even want to put them in jail for it? If they're drunk and being a public nuisance, that's one thing, but just drinking a beer in public seems like a pretty stupid reason to lock someone up.

Unless you're locking them up for drinking Budweiser specifically. I can almost endorse that.

Here are some of the details about what these cities are doing:
In Springfield, first-time offenders face a $100 fine; second-time offenders, $200; third-time and subsequent offenders, $300. In Salem, police reserve the right to subpoena into court people smoking marijuana in public. Offenders are required to identify themselves and face a fine of up to $300. The city also can fine an offender up to $300. In Lynn, offenders who smoke in public also face a $300 fine. In each community, the local penalties are in addition to the state fine.
What's with everyone wanting $300?

It's already illegal to smoke pot, not just in public, but anywhere. These local laws are--at best--attempts to solve a problem that already has a solution. More realistically, they're attempts to subvert the decriminalization of marijuana by adding more hassles and fines to something that's already illegal.

Surely they have a good reason for doing this, right?
For Police Chief Robert M. St. Pierre, Halloween in Salem — when thousands visit the city because of its spooky history — is enough reason to pass bylaws for possession of marijuana in public.

“When you have 60,000 people crowded in a small downtown, you can’t allow public drinking or public marijuana use. You have to have some laws with teeth to protect Salem, especially at that time of year.”
That makes perfect sense! People come to town for Halloween, therefore unnecessary marijuana laws must be put into place year-round!

Come to think of it, I've noticed that there's an awful lot of jaywalking that takes place on Halloween too. Jaywalking is already illegal, but I think we need stronger laws to make it even more illegal. Somebody needs to get on that right away!

Can this whole thing become stupider? Easily.
State Sen. James Timilty, a Walpole Democrat, has introduced a bill that he says clarifies some confusion. Timilty’s bill would allow police to arrest anyone who fails to produce identification. Police Chief St. Pierre said that amendment would help him deal with thousands of Halloween revelers in full costume.

“It’s very hard if someone is bent on trying to commit a criminal act and they have masks or face paint or a costume,” he said.
This man is allowed to enforce laws?

First, we're not dealing with "a criminal act." Remember that fancy "decriminalization" word? It means that marijuana possession is now a civil offense, not a criminal one. This seriously shouldn't be that hard to understand.

Second, do the Salem police somehow have pictures of everyone who goes there for Halloween? Is the one thing stopping them from identifying these foreign ne'er-do-wells on sight the fact that they're wearing costumes? Seriously, what the hell?

Also, are police really so easily foiled by people wearing costumes and/or masks?

If so, I'm going to head over to that costume shop by the strip club, buy a naughty nurse outfit or something (since 90% of their stock is "slutty something-or-other" costumes and I'm in a rush), don it, and rob all the banks in town. The police will be helpless to stop me as long as I don't carelessly remove my mask. It's a perfect crime!

The amendment in question appears to be this one, by the way (thanks for not citing anything yet again, "journalism"). It appears to do what they say, amending the current law to add the ability to arrest people who don't give correct identification when suspected of a marijuana offense.

It also does some other things that look worrisome, but that I don't have the time to cross-reference right now to find out for sure. If you want to check how the amendment changes the current law in other ways, feel free. The current law is here.

There is a fatal flaw in Timilty's amendment, though. Nowhere does it say that people have to take off their ridiculous costumes. Salem's dumbest will never manage to get around the masks and face-paintings without a law explicitly stating they have to be removed!

The reality behind all these utterly insane rationalizations should be easy enough to see. City governments want to appear "tough on drugs," so they make up pointless laws to solve non-problems.

Never mind that there's little indication that public pot smoking is any sort of significant problem. Politicians want to be seen as doing something, even if they're not actually accomplishing a damn thing.

That's why you get so many pointless (and sometimes counterproductive) laws about sex offenders, and it's why you get pointless laws about smoking pot. The people being targeted probably aren't going to put up much of a fight, so they're easy pickings for unimaginative city councilors.

It's totally legal for them to do so, since the state law allows for it. It's straight from the ballot question itself, which allowed for it for reasons I can't fathom. They're no doubt political in nature.

But just because they can make these silly laws doesn't mean they should make them. They're unnecessary, redundant, and even if they fit the letter of the ballot question, they certainly don't fit the spirit of it.