Bill introduced to relax penalties for marijuana use in Massachusetts

Medical marijuana is regulated in Massachusetts, but recreational marijuana use may come with criminal penalties.

In many states across the country, marijuana has been approved for medical purposes. A small number of other states, such as Colorado, have legalized recreational cannabis. An increasing number of cities and counties in numerous states have passed laws or are considering legislation that reduces the penalty for possessing marijuana from being a crime to a civil offense. Lawmakers in Massachusetts have previously considered a similar option, although an agreement has yet to be reached.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, last March a bill was introduced in Massachusetts that would allow jurisdictions to regulate the sale and use of cannabis in much the same way as alcohol. For example, only those age 21 and older would be allowed to possess small amounts of marijuana without being penalized. There would also be laws for driving under the influence of marijuana that would make it similar to an alcohol DUI. However, the future of marijuana legalization in Massachusetts remains uncertain.

Possible benefits of decriminalization

There are numerous benefits to decriminalizing cannabis, according to the marijuana rights group NORML. For example, regulating and taxing the drug can bring revenue into the state. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences have shown that legalizing marijuana has not led to an increase in people using the drug, or to increases in marijuana-related car accidents. There is also no conclusive evidence that marijuana use causes people to move on to more serious drug abuse.

Also, removing the criminal aspect of marijuana use allows law enforcement to concentrate on more serious crimes, such as theft and violent offenses. When police officers pursue marijuana users, their time and resources are directed away from public safety efforts. Valuable tax dollars and space in prisons can also be saved if marijuana use is treated as a civil matter, rather than a criminal offense.

Criminal penalties for marijuana in Massachusetts

The possession of less than one ounce of cannabis without a medical card in Massachusetts is treated as a civil offense and carries a $100 fine. Currently, Massachusetts residents who are defending charges for more serious marijuana use face criminal penalties. These may include the following:

• Jail time of up to six months for a first-offense possession of more than one ounce

• A fine of $500 for having more than one ounce

• Significantly increased penalties for a subsequent offense or for possession of larger quantities

It is unknown whether the proposed suggestions to lower criminal marijuana penalties will catch on in Massachusetts. If you are facing marijuana charges, you will need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney.