Sunday, February 22, 2009

Originally Published in the Cape Cod Sound, February 2009 Edition

Cape stoners, raise one hand in a fist of triumph and the other, armed with your now-just-civil offense, to your lips. As of January Second, victory is yours.

By result of November’s general election, you no longer face potential jail time and the accumulation of a criminal offense record for possession of small amounts of pot. Indeed, Massachusetts has become something of a paradise for all marijuana enthusiasts, ranging from the orange-fingered couch potato to the elegant cannabis connoisseur. Says one Falmouth area toker, “This is rocking.”

But what exactly does this mean for you and your endless fight against the man? Are the powers that be still out to get you?

In short, no. They never were. You were stoned and paranoid.

“It was pretty uncommon that someone was arrested for straight possession,” explains Nantucket detective Terry Adams. “A lot of the time there was an underlying charge anyway.”

The Nantucket Police force has, of press time, issued just one citation for marijuana use, which came in conjunction with an arrest for driving with a suspended license.

“If we come upon somebody that is in the act of smoking marijuana, they’ll be cited and sent on their way, at the discretion of the officer,” he adds.

Most authoritative attitudes regarding pot seem mostly the same. Speaking for the Yarmouth Police Department, Lieutenant Steven George Xiarhos calls the decriminalization of the drug “a step in the wrong direction,” even questioning whether voters how much an ounce of marijuana, the amount at and under which possession is no longer considered a crime, actually amounts to. “It’s a huge amount,” he says.

Xiarhos acknowledges the new laws as legitimate but states that his office will make no changes in the level of intensity at which it goes after all drug offenses. “It is still illegal, regardless of the amount,” he says.
The primary concern out of Yarmouth is an increase in impaired driving as a result of the implementation of the law. Under the new laws, burn rides are still considered quite criminal.

Students Against Destructive Decisions (the bizarre manifestation of an inherent paradox) also maintains its frown even in the age of decriminalization. The organization’s 2008-2009 National Student of the Year, Steven Winkler, is “disheartened” by the passed ballot question in Massachusetts. “It is illogical to me for marijuana to be decriminalized when statistics show that the previous message appeared to be working,” Winkler says, citing a SADD study that concluded that sixty-five percent of students that choose not to use drugs do so because of legal ramifications.

“Now that the law sends an unclear message,” he continues, “I am concerned about how those students will perceive the dangers of marijuana.”

Cape Cod voted overwhelmingly in favor of the marijuana reform laws suggested by Question 2 in the November general election. According to data from that big, bad, other Cape newspaper, the question passed on the peninsula and in the islands with sixty-five percent support. In some communities, such as Provincetown, Truro, and Nantucket, “Yes” beat “No” three to one.

State Representative Jeff Perry, a Republican out of Barnstable’s fifth district, did not support Question 2. Perry spent eight years as an officer for the Wareham Police and chooses to look at the issue from a law enforcement perspective. “Police forces lose the ability to investigate further issues under this law, and there is no longer mandatory treatment,” he says.

However, Perry is well aware of how his voters felt regarding the issue. “It passed pretty convincingly,” he states, “and now I will listen to the people of Massachusetts.” He adds, “My title is ‘Representative,’ so I’m supposed to represent the people of my district. When they pass their ballot and say they want something, I think it’s my ethical responsibility to follow what they want.”

The fact of the matter, though, is that not much has really changed. Don’t get me wrong; the passing of this law certainly warrants your celebration. However, three weeks ago, in order to get arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana, you needed to be stupid. You needed to be right out in the open, or you needed to be driving like enough of an idiot to get pulled over, or you needed to be calling the officer a fatass when he was going to just give you a slap on the wrist.

Today, to be fined, you still need to be stupid. And to be arrested, you need to be real stupid. You still need to be driving like enough of an idiot to get pulled over or you need to have more than an ounce on you.

Three weeks ago and today, the story is the same. To get caught with pot requires fundamental stupidity.

What this law protects you from is basic. If your stupidity gets the best of you, and you are not driving or do not have an industrial bag full of reefer, you’ll pay a $100 stupidity fine and not see the remainder of your life potentially destroyed by the consequences of arrest.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual. Find a safe place to smoke and light on up. You’ll find that this strategy, as well as it worked three weeks ago, still works today, and if you still manage to get caught, at least the law is more on your side than it has been in decades.

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