2008 Massachusetts Decriminalizes Marijuana
posted by November 5 at 11:51 AMon
By 65 to 35 percent, voters in Massachusetts just decriminalized up to an ounce of pot. A crime punishable by arrest, court, jail, and butt poking is now a $100 citation. It’s like a parking ticket.
This could have an impact in Washington very soon. For years, the funders and nonprofits that supported this sort of thing were reluctant to run a decriminalization measure here. They feared that high-credibility opponents—cops, prosecutors, and tough-on-crime Democrats—would use baseless fear mongering to crush the measure. That is, in fact, what they tried to do in Massachusetts:
The opponents, who include the governor, attorney general, and district attorneys around the state, argued that decriminalizing marijuana possession would promote drug use and benefit drug dealers at a time when they say marijuana has become more potent. They warned it would increase violence on the streets and safety hazards in the workplace, and cause the number of car crashes to rise as more youths drive under the influence.
So how did that tactic work? It apparently backfired. Polling two weeks ago showed Question two leading by 19 points, but—after the opposition ramped up its campaign—it passed by a 30-point margin. Police speaking out against pot-law reform doesn’t have traction with voters that we thought. We can’t be sure why, exactly, but perhaps cops screaming about needing to bust stoners to protect public safety comes off as a self-serving ploy to retain power.
This could set off a chain-reaction of similar initiatives in other states. “I don’t think we can say that Washington voters should be thought of as the same as Massachusetts voters,” says Alison Holcomb, director of the ACLU of Washington’s drug policy project. “However, our conversations with Washington residents have shown us that they have given the same careful and considered thought to this issue.” She adds that there have been conversations about running an initiative here. “But it also possible that our elected officials may want to take the initiative in this area.”
Every time people start talking about loosening pot laws, opponents make the same claims: that it will increase pot smoking and send the wrong message to kids. (Some states decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s, but most of them still punish people with huge fines and some still require court appearances. Those states, however, aren’t “sending a message” because there’s been no public hubbub over the issue.) Well, to gauge the impact of the loud and clear message in Massachussetts, let’s watch what heppens there in the next year. If there’s no increase in pot smoking, violence in the streets, and kids don’t get “the wrong message,” those arguments from the drug czar and law enforcement are refuted. The U.S. will have a domestic model to prove that pot can be decriminalized without any ramifications. That’s the hard evidence that will make it easier to pass a similar elsewhere. So I predict that by 2010, funders and nonprofits will run decrim in another state. Rumor has it that Washington is next on the list.