Civil rights activists and the ACLU have mobilized in Massachusetts, sharply criticizing prosecutors for allegedly misusing prosecutorial discretion in pushing felony drug charges on casual pot smokers. Despite the fact that voters in Massachusetts decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana by over 65 percent in 2008, some smokers are still facing jail time.
It seems that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is trying to circumvent voter will by using legal technicalities. Via the Globe, their assertion is that any marijuana smoker who shares their stash or stores it in more than one bag is guilty of distribution, which is a serious crime carrying a sentence of up to 2 years in jail.
It is frustrating to see Commonwealth prosecutors’ refusal to yield to the wishes of the public, which were made blatantly obvious through the decriminalization of marijuana vote in 2008, and continuing opinion polling and votes.
Prosecutors attempting to overcharge drug crimes is not a new phenomenon, but it is increasingly absurd in marijuana cases, given the strong public opinion trends, here and nationwide. Massachusetts was one of the first states to decriminalize, and also joined 17 other states this month in allowing marijuana for medical use, by a wide margin.
Some Bay state voters also got to vote on a non-binding referendum asking if they would support legalization and taxation of marijuana, and the results were a strong yes. With Colorado and Washington being the first states to legalize recreational use for adults, many activists are betting Massachusetts will be next.
Michael O’Keefe, vice president of the Massachusetts District Attorney Association, stood by the Commonwealth’s decision by stating that “the law is still the law.” In the next breath, however, he admitted that recent passages for the legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana in several states, including his own, are “the slow erosion of our drug laws.” By their own admission, it seems that the Commonwealth’s marijuana policy is to desperately grasp at straws, without regard for the lives that they may be destroying.
While O’Keefe and the Commonwealth were frantically attempting to justify their abusive use of legal technicalities to impose harsh and ineffective punishments on nonviolent smokers, the ACLU was filing a friend of the court brief in the case of Commonwealth v. Pacheco, a case which is currently on appeal in front of the Supreme Judicial Court. While the brief addresses the legality of charging distribution for simply passing a joint, the focus should be on addressing the intention of voters.
Representatives of the ACLU argue that the manner the Commonwealth is choosing to prosecute those who share marijuana is tantamount to contradicting “the will of the voters who approved marijuana decriminalization in 2008.” Furthermore, they argued that what the prosecution was doing went against the fundamentals of the United States democracy by saying that “the voters sought to limit marijuana prosecutions, not to invite creative ways for the Commonwealth to increase them.”
The recent legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado speak to the strides that activists have made in recent history, as well as those that are likely to follow, quite possibly here in Massachusetts in 2016. The question is, when will the government give up on this losing battle?
Photo: DC Atty