New marijuana law leads to administrative nightmares

The people of Massachusetts voted to decriminalize the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. Now the greater issue is the enforcement of the new policy. The new law essentially converts a criminal offense of possession of marijuana into a civil violation.

To qualify a person must not have pled to possession of marijuana in the past. If a person does qualify, the law requires the state to convert the criminal offense into a civil violation. A person then would be required to pay $100 fine, and attend a drug treatment class. The parameters of the new law seem simple enough, but the law is silent to its administration. As a result, the new law has lead to serious problems for the court system.

The law does not state who should be issuing the fines. When a police officer finds marijuana on a person, should he or she be issuing a citation similar to a trafficking ticket? Or should the police officer still file for a criminal complaint, and allow the judge to convert it later on?

There is no way of keeping track of people that are being fined. The purpose of the law is to give a break to a first time offender. The law does not state what entity should be keeping count on how many times a person has been caught. Essentially when a police officer has caught someone with an ounce of marijuana, he has no idea if the person is a first time offender, or has been caught with marijuana many times before.

The law does not state who should be collecting the fines, or what the penalties for non-payment are. Should a police officer collect the fine on the spot, or should he tell an offender to send the money somewhere?

Finally, this drug treatment class that people are required to take also poses a serious administrative problem. Unlike AA for alcohol treatment, drug treatment programs are not as readily available around the state. Once again the law is unclear on who should be signing up offenders, keeping track of the people who go and enforcing the penalties for non-compliance. Whether you agree with the policy or not the law leads to serious administrative issues.

Telegram reports on the new law

Boston Globe reporting on recommendations to clear up the confusion

For more information: visit or contact me at 508-808-8902

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