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Q&A: Decriminalizing marijuana

Boston.com / January 2, 2009
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Gregory I. Massing, an attorney with the state's executive office of public safety & security, answered questions about the impact of a new marijuana decriminalization law, approved by Massachusetts voters in a November referendum, that went into effect today.

Q: Are people allowed to smoke marijuana in public now as long as it is an ounce or less?

A: The new $100 civil penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana applies to smoking marijuana in public: you can't smoke it without possessing it. Question 2 gives municipalities the option to pass ordinances or by-laws to make public use of marijuana a crime.

Q: Are people allowed to smoke or use marijuana in private?

A: The same $100 civil penalty applies to smoking or using an ounce or less of marijuana in private. Question 2 did not change the criminal laws prohibiting possession of more than an ounce of marijuana, nor did it change the laws regarding distribution of any amount of marijuana.

Q: Is it legal to buy or sell marijuana?

A: Question 2 did not change the criminal laws prohibiting the distribution, sale, trafficking, or manufacturing of marijuana, or the possession of any amount of marijuana with intent to distribute, sell, traffic, or manufacture. Someone who buys more than an ounce of marijuana can be prosecuted for possessing more than an ounce of marijuana, which is still a crime. Someone who buys an ounce or less of marijuana is subject to the new $100 civil penalty. It is possible that someone who buys any amount of marijuana could be prosecuted for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The decision whether or not to charge conspiracy is in the discretion of the relevant police department and district attorney's office.

Q: Do the same laws apply to minors as adults?

A: Yes, except under Question 2 there are additional provisions (including a requirement to attend a drug awareness program) for persons under 18 who possess an ounce or less of marijuana. See our web site for provisions for offenders under 18. More information

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