Mass. voters on pot bill: Hey man, pass that

by Beacon Staff • November 28, 2007

Our View: The proposed measure comes closer but does not achieve fairness.,The news probably has some pot smokers rolling up a little extra in celebration: a proposal aiming to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in Massachusetts will be put on the ballot next year. The 105,000 signatures collected, 38,000 more than were needed in order for the measure to be presented to the people, assured its presence on the ballot.

If the proposal is passed, anyone caught with an ounce or less would be fined $100-a civil penalty similar to a littering offense. No jail time, no criminal record and minimum hassle.

But don't spark anything up just yet. Within the proposal is a section that expands the definition of "possession" to include evidence of drugs found "in the urine, blood, saliva, sweat, hair, fingernails, toe nails or other tissue or fluid of the human body."

In other words, those who fail a drug test are subject to the same fine as someone caught with, say, a half ounce of haze.

Drug tests, as pot smokers are quick to point out, can be a real problem because of the amount of time it stays in the body. Traces of harder drugs like cocaine and heroin leave the body much more quickly.

The result is that users of much more dangerous and destructive drugs frequently slip through the cracks, while recreational pot smokers receive harsher punishments. Within the context of this proposal, people who had smoked pot legally (think Kasteel Well) could be subject to a fine when they return to Massachusetts, upon failing a drug test.

While the measure is a step in the right direction, its flaws reveal a much larger problem in the system. There is an inherent lack of understanding on the part of our government when it comes to marijuana. Theirs is the same school of thought that groups marijuana with cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin, while the public legally downs alcohol at an astounding rate.

There are still those who insist pot is a dangerous drug. While it's probably best not to operate heavy machinery while under the influence, that is also true of any narcotic. No one-literally, no human being ever-has overdosed on pot. They have fallen asleep, they have eaten too much and they have said some really dumb or funny or profound things, but they have never died.

There are roughly 113,000 college students living in Boston and another 225,000 living in the Greater Boston area. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, one third of all college students admitted to having used marijuana within the past year. Almost half admitted to having used at some point during their lives.

Using these statistics as a reference point, there are well over 100,000 kids in and around Boston who use pot at least somewhat regularly. And those numbers are not likely change.

Students found guilty of marijuana possesion, under current laws, would have the offense reflected on their records, endangering their chances of getting a job in the real world. It is not fair to punish students for the rest of their lives because of minor mistakes made in college.

It is time to change our national policies regarding marijuana. Decriminalizing small amounts of pot is just one step. Only when society regards marijuana not as a dangerous substance but as a mild depressant will these absurd and arbitrary laws be effaced from the books.