A 2008 law decriminalizing possession of one ounce or less of marijuana has given young people the impression that there is nothing wrong with smoking pot, according to parents who are calling on lawmakers to give district attorneys more leeway in dealing with people under 21 caught with the illegal drug.
Beverly resident Paul Kusiak, the father of two young men recovering from drug addiction, said the 2008 ballot law has left many young people under the impression that marijuana “is already legal,” he said. And parents often turn the other way because they smoked and drank when they were young, he said.
“I think that a lot of parents feel that drinking alcohol, smoking pot is not a big deal. It is a rite of passage. A lot of us have done it,” he told lawmakers. “I am here to share that not everyone gets through it. My kids certainly didn’t.”
Sen. Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, filed legislation (S 923) that would give district attorneys the opportunity to order – at their discretion and in lieu of prosecution – counseling, community service or some treatment, as well as fines and the potential loss of their driver’s licenses.
The legislation, supporters say, keeps the intent of the 2008 law by not imposing any criminal penalties on anyone 21 or over. For those under 21, it would provide for misdemeanor punishment for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, similar to punishment for minor possession of alcohol.
Lawmakers on the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee heard Tuesday from parents who are behind the bill, entitled “An act protecting minors from the harmful effects of marijuana.”
Rep. Elizabeth Malia (D-Jamaica Plain), co-chair of the committee, said lawmakers are obligated to look at the effects of the decriminalization law. “As we learn, we are obligated to move forward and start looking for solutions,” she said.
Under the legislation, a first offense conviction would also carry a fine of not more than $100 and a loss of license for 90 days; a second or subsequent offense would carry a fine not more than $150 and a loss of license for 90 days.
- C. Quinn/SHNS