SHIRLEY — It was reported in last week’s Shirley Oracle that the police chief was unsure what steps to take in issuing civil citations related to the new, more lenient marijuana law.
The new law — placed on the ballot by citizen’s petition — passed at the last general election and went into effect Jan. 2.
Under the new law, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is a civil offense, not a criminal offense and violators are not subject to arrest on that charge. Instead, police may issue a citation similar to a traffic ticket, with a $100 fine.
Thibodeau had said he didn’t know which public entity would be responsible for printing the citations, but he now knows each community must do it, he said, using a generic form that he now has, ready to go.
He also has an information package issued by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. Written by the association’s general counsel, Jack Collins, it’s a handy reference to help the law enforcement community understand the nuances of the new law.
Laid out in user-friendly Q&A format, the multi-page document answers many common questions police have been asking about the new law and street-level implementation.
For example, although cities and towns are not required to formally adopt the new law — M.G.L. Chap. 40, 21D, section 32L — it must be enforced across the commonwealth.
Clearing up several points of confusion, the Chiefs of Police advisory states, for example, that the citation may be issued at the time and place of the violation or mailed or delivered to the offender’s last known address within 15 days of the violation.
The document gets into nitty-gritty details that address a plethora of procedural issues, including legal enforcement matters such as whether the new law applies to OUI offenses. In short, it doesn’t change previous law in OUI cases.
Nor does the new law affect distribution or possession with intent to distribute charges. Specifically, it is still a criminal offense to possess, sell or distribute more than an ounce of marijuana, in any form, including prescription forms such as Marinol, which is unlawful without a prescription.
There’s also useful information for youthful offenders and their parents about drug awareness programs. Although that aspect of the new law might be called an “unfunded mandate” since there’s no money budgeted for it, the law is not silent on the issue. Rather, it requires the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to develop a targeted program that includes classroom instruction and community service.
The law also allows communities to pass ordinances that prohibit public use of marijuana, with added non-criminal penalties. A sample bylaw may be obtained from the state attorney general’s office.
Most, if not all, existing police procedures related to controlled substances remain intact under the new law, which decriminalizes sanctions for possession and use of an ounce or less of marijuana but does not legalize it. Nor does the new law erode police powers to conduct “warrantless searches” for contraband with “probable cause.”
The blank civil citation form police may issue for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana provides space for officers to list the offender’s name, address and age, although it’s apparently not mandatory to provide that information.
Fines of $100 are levied for each offense and the drug is confiscated.
Violators cited under the new law may opt to pay the fine or appeal it in district court, like a traffic ticket. The citation states that it’s a non-criminal proceeding whose final disposition does not result in a criminal record.
Although the citation does not so state, the law attaches conditions for violators under age 18, who must complete a drug awareness program.
The fine is paid to the town clerk, Thibodeau said, and the money goes into town coffers.