Drug Policy

The Wrong Way to Decriminalize?

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In a Boston Globe op-ed piece, cannabis expert Lester Grinspoon, author of Marijuana Reconsidered and co-author of Marijuana, the Forbidden Medicinecriticizes a marijuana decriminalization measure that's expected to appear on the Massachusetts ballot next November. Grinspoon, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, agrees with the goal of eliminating criminal penalties for minor marijuana offenses. But he worries that the initiative would create a new offense: "internal possession of marijuana metabolites." That's because the measure would impose a $100 fine for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, including possession indicated by a positive drug test. Grinspoon notes that marijuana tests do not demonstrate intoxication; they merely indicate that the subject has smoked pot sometime in the recent past. For daily pot smokers, the window of detection can be as long as a month.

The Marijuana Policy Project, the D.C.-based group backing the initiative, says internal possession is already arguably illegal in Massachusetts. MPP says it included internal possession to keep the initiative simple and to preclude the government from punishing a positive test result more severely than holding a bag of pot. It emphasizes that citations based on internal possession would be rare, since the government can legally obtain a urine or blood sample for testing only in limited circumstances, and that the punishment would never exceed a $100 fine. For the vast majority of pot smokers who come to the attention of police, that would be a welcome change. As with speeding tickets, they could pay their fines by mail, they would not have to appear in court, they would not face the possibility of jail, and they would not have criminal records. Just as important, pot smokers would avoid collateral sanctions such as suspension of their driver's licenses, forfeiture of their professional licenses, loss of their right to own a firearm, and ineligibility for adoption, student aid, and unemployment benefits. While Grinspoon may be right that the initiative could have been better drafted, on the whole it seems like a big improvement over current law.

[Thanks to CK for the link.]