Towns try to punish public marijuana use

March 25th, 2009 by admin

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Dozens of Massachusetts cities and towns are taking steps to impose stiff new fines for smoking marijuana in public and even to charge some violators with misdemeanors, a trend that critics say subverts the state ballot question passed overwhelmingly last fall to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In recent weeks, at least seven communities – Duxbury, Lynn, Methuen, Medway, Milford, Salem, and Springfield – have passed bylaws that target people who light up in public. And two dozen cities and towns expect to vote this spring on similar measures, which proponents liken to local open container laws that ban drinking alcohol in public.

Police officials say they want to discourage flagrant marijuana smoking, particularly in public parks, schoolyards, and on beaches where young children gather. While last year’s ballot initiative reduced possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction carrying a $100 fine, police say that some marijuana smokers mistakenly believe that the voters legalized the drug entirely.

“If you’re smoking marijuana in front of schoolchildren, to me that’s a little bit more serious than smoking a joint by yourself out in the middle of the woods,” said Salem police Captain Brian Gilligan. His city recently authorized officers to fine public smokers $300 in addition to the $100 fine for possession. The Salem bylaw also lets officers give them a misdemeanor summons, although Gilligan predicted that few will get them.

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