District attorney's position paper

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District Attorney's Position and Responses

Massachusetts District Attorneys Unanimously Oppose Decriminalizing Marijuana Possession


In the Spring of 2008 the Massachusetts legislature must address an initiative petition[1] that seeks to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. [2] If the legislature does not pass the measure by May 7, 2008, it must appear on the ballot in November 2008.[3] The eleven Massachusetts District Attorneys unanimously oppose this measure for the following reasons and urge the legislature and the general public to reject it.

1. The law we have now IS a sensible marijuana policy.

The Commonwealth’s laws governing the possession of marijuana are fair and reasonable.

no, the law makes it criminal to smoke marijuana. this means that every adult who smokes marijuana is a criminal according to the law of massachusetts. this is a travesty of justice which should not stand the test of judicial rationality and most certainly not the test of jury justice.

2. Decriminalization of marijuana will increase its availability and use, and send a message to adolescents that smoking dope is normal behavior. – probably true that decriminalization of marijauna will increase its availability and use and will send a message not only to youth but to all citizens of massachusetts and beyond that smoking marijuana is not a crime.


The District Attorneys ask Massachusetts parents, “Do you really want to encourage your kids to smoke dope?” – To which the answer is “No, not necessarily. But I would like to be able to relate to my kids about drugs in a sensible way that they will understand and appreciate rather than rebel against.”
Note that the proposed petition decriminalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana; consequently, any person may carry and use marijuana at any time, thus “normalizing” its use. – subject to being banned like cigarettes places where the smoke would give offense.
Decriminalization will reverse a recently documented positive trend in youth marijuana use:
  • Past year use of marijuana among 8th graders significantly declined from 11.7 percent in 2006 to 10.3 percent in 2007, and is down from its 1996 peak of 18.3 percent.
  • Annual prevalence of marijuana use has fallen by 33 percent among 8th-graders, 25 percent among 10th-graders, and 14 percent among 12th-graders since 2001.
  • Disapproval of trying marijuana “once or twice,” smoking marijuana “occasionally,” or smoking marijuana “regularly” increased significantly among 8th-graders from 2006 to 2007, and remained stable for 10th- and 12th-graders for the same period.
o Source: Infofacts: High School and Youth Trends, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2007.

-oppose jail statistics, numbers, aggregate sentences, cost to the state, cost to the families 3. Marijuana use is hazardous to public safety and public health

There is a direct link between marijuana use and criminal activity
*
A significant percentage of male arrestees test positive for marijuana:
o 42% of all males arrested in Omaha
o 41% of all males arrested in Chicago
o 35% of all males arrested in San Diego
+ Source: Consortium of Alcohol & Substance Abuse Services, Drug Abuse Alert: Marijuana Can Mess You Up…And Burn You Out.
  • The criminal justice system is the largest single source of referral to drug treatment programs. (Note: This does not pertain exclusively to marijuana users.
o Source: Marijuana Myths & Facts, The Truth Behind 10 Popular Misconceptions, Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2005.


- there is no direct link, any more than the direct link between wearing pants and criminal activity.
o 100% of all males arrested in Omaha
o 100% of all males arrested in Chicago
o 100% of all males arrested in San Diego

there is a high incidence of marijuana smoking among young rebellious males. this is strong reason not to criminalize smoking marijuana, which needlessly makes rebellious youth criminals.


There is a direct link between marijuana use and motor vehicle crashes.
  • Marijuana use impairs drivers, especially their coordination and balance, and alters a driver’s sense of time and distance.
  • Smoking marijuana is often combined with drinking alcohol, which further impairs motor skills and increases the risk of accidents.
o Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Research Report Series – Marijuana Abuse. 2005.
  • Even a moderate amount of marijuana impairs driving performance, particularly reaction time, and how often drivers checked the rear and side-view mirrors, side streets, the relative speed of other drivers.
o Source: Marijuana Myths & Facts, The Truth Behind 10 Popular Misconceptions, Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2005.
  • Data concerning shock-trauma patients involved in auto crashes reveals that 15% had been smoking marijuana, and another 17% had both marijuana and alcohol in their blood.
o Source: Marijuana Myths & Facts, The Truth Behind 10 Popular Misconceptions, Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2005.
  • Marijuana is the second most prevalent substance found in impaired drivers (alcohol is the most prevalent).
o Source: DEA Street Smart Prevention Website, Driving While High on Marijuana.
  • Marijuana users are 10 times more likely to be injured, or to injure others, in automobile crashes. A marijuana user’s risk of an auto crash is increased whether or not they use marijuana immediately preceding the crash.
o Source: DEA Street Smart Prevention Website, Driving While High on Marijuana, citing a scientific study in New Zealand published in Addiction, 2005.
  • According to U.S. government surveys regarding adolescent drug use patterns, approximately 600,000 high school seniors drive after smoking marijuana, and 38,000 seniors admit to crashing the car while under the influence of marijuana.
o Source: DEA Street Smart Prevention Website, Driving While High on Marijuana.
  • Surveys conducted by MADD and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company indicate that 41% of teenagers are not concerned to drive after smoking marijuana.
o Source: DEA Street Smart Prevention Website, Driving While High on Marijuana.
  • Statistics indicate that annually, approximately 36 million people drive under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or another illegal drug.
o Source: Marijuana Myths & Facts, The Truth Behind 10 Popular Misconceptions, Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2005.
There is a direct link between marijuana use and public health
  • Marijuana contains nearly five times more carbon monoxide and three times as much tar as regular cigarettes. Marijuana smoke contains 50% more cancer-causing materials than tobacco smoke.
o Source: Consortium of Alcohol & Substance Abuse Services, Drug Abuse Alert: Marijuana Can Mess You Up…And Burn You Out. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Research Report Series – Marijuana Abuse. 2005.
+ Health effects of carbon monoxide: when inhaled, it decreases the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity, depriving the organs and muscles of oxygen. To try to get more oxygen, the heart has to work much harder, therefore increasing the risk of a heart attack or heart failure. Also, more red blood cells are produced, which causes the blood to become thicker and sticky, resulting in increased fatty deposits that lead to blood clots, strokes and heart attacks.
+ Health effects of tar: Tar is a thick, sticky mixture of chemicals that cause cancer. Tar irritates lung tissue and paralyses its natural cleaning mechanism, which leads to chronic chest/respiratory problems including lung cancer, emphysema and chronic pulmonary disease. Tar is also absorbed into the bloodstream and carried around the body.
There is a direct link between marijuana use and workplace safety:


The rate of industrial accidents among marijuana users is more than 50% higher than among non-users. The health and safety of coworkers and the general public are at risk when workers test positive for marijuana.
o Source: How Does Marijuana Use Affect School, Work and Social Life?, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2005.
  • A study among postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment urine drug test had 55 percent more industrial accidents, 85 percent more injuries, and a 75 percent increase in absenteeism compared with those who tested negative for marijuana use.
o Source: How Does Marijuana Use Affect School, Work and Social Life?, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2005.


(1)The proposed measure provides that “possession of one ounce or less of marihuana shall only be a civil offense, subjecting an offender who is eighteen years of age or older to a civil penalty of one hundred dollars and forfeiture of the marihuana, but not to any other form of criminal or civil punishment or disqualification. An offender under the age of eighteen shall be subject to the same forfeiture and civil penalty provisions, provided he or she completes a drug awareness program . . . “

(2)This initiative petition is sponsored by the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, a political action group funded primarily by billionaire financier George Soros; the MA Office of Campaign and Political Finance indicates that Soros contributed $400,000 of the group’s total revenues of $429,049 as of December 31, 2007. Some of the group’s members are the same as those who, in the year 2000 under a different name, advocated for Ballot Question 8, which would have deferred many drug dealers, including some repeat offenders, into treatment instead of criminal sanctions. That measure was soundly defeated at the polls.

(3)Subject to the proponents gathering an additional 11,099 signatures. For a description of the ballot initiative process, see the website of Attorney General Martha Coakley at www.mass.gov/ago.