MA: Acton And Boxborough Police On Marijuana Legalization

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More than 1.7 million Massachusetts voters — or about 54 percent — approved marijuana legalization in November, making Massachusetts the first state on the East Coast to end the century-long prohibition.

Buying, using, growing and selling marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

"We’re here to serve the community and the people from Massachusetts have spoken and they said they want this and we respect that. There are rules to be followed- and that’s fine," said Boxborough Police Chief Warren Ryder. "We hope there’s further development and guidance form the state for what we can do to keep the roads safe from drivers operating vehicles under the influence of marijuana. We’re still waiting for that."

Police officers are not allowed to use recreational marijuana or medical marijuana because it remains a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal controlled substances act, explained Acton Deputy Police Chief Rich Burrows, noting federal law also prohibits an unlawful user of a controlled substance from possessing any firearms or ammunition.

Home Growing

The statute allows an individual to grow up to six plants, and there can be 12 plants in a home. Though it varies greatly, a single plant can produce as much as a pound of product. No permit is required for home growing under these limits, so long as it’s for personal use and not for sale.

But there are caveats: The plants cannot be visible from the street or with the naked eye. Plants also have to be kept in a locked area. Those caught breaking these rules are subject to a $300 fine.

"This will be very difficult to enforce. If we are in a home legally for any reason we can make observations, but in order to enter someone’s home without their consent we would need probable cause under the 4th Amendment," said Burrows.

It is, however, out of bounds to use binoculars, a drone camera, an airplane or any other visual aid to spot the plants.

When it comes to regulating the possession of plants, Ryder explained BPD is not on the hunt for it, but if police receive information someone has too many plants, they’ll investigate it. If police happen to be somewhere where they discover someone has too many plants, police will take enforcement action, he added.

"I don’t see this being a high priority for the BPD, making sure you don’t have one too many plants. You have to have way too many plants," Ryder said.

Possession

If you’re 21 or older, you can have up to one ounce on your person, or five grams of concentrated marijuana, such as wax or oil. You can keep up to 10 ounces in your home. If you’re growing plants in your house, you can possess however much your crop yields, even if it exceeds 10 ounces.

You can also gift up to an ounce of marijuana to anyone 21 years or older.

As a property owner, you can no longer be prosecuted for having marijuana product or plants on your property.

But there’s an "open container" style law for keeping marijuana in your car. Unsealed packages, like a jar or a baggie, need to stay in the trunk or a locked glove box. The fine for breaking this rule is steep, at $500.

All of this applies to people over 21. If you’re underage, any possession comes with a $100 fine and a mandatory drug awareness program.

"Nothing changes for juveniles, possession of marijuana under 1 oz is a civil violation and possessing more than 1 oz is a criminal offense," said Burrows.

When is come to the community-at-large, Ryder replied, "We’re not ramping up. We’re actually ramping down. My biggest concerns falls with the juveniles and making sure people aren’t driving under the influence," said Ryder.

Consumption

Identifying drivers who are under the influence of marijuana is a challenge because there’s no scientific or standardized testing to determine if people are driving high.

"We have had this problem for some time and expect it to increase. Marijuana use, other illegal drug use and some prescription medications taken in excess or with alcohol are all difficult to determine. There is advanced training available for officers to detect impairment, but there is no tool, like a portable breath test, to determine marijuana use or other drug use," said Burrows.

Smoking and eating edibles are, for the most part, fair game. But there are a few exceptions: you can’t smoke or ingest marijuana in a public place, or anywhere where smoking tobacco has been prohibited. Those caught are subject to a $100 fine, and some legislators have talked about raising the fine to $200.

"THC affects people different, whether it’s smoked, ingested, or eaten — there’s a whole lot of unknown how to determine whether someone is affected by that. But in a case if we have a situation where someone is stopped, in an accident or we come in contact with them, we will simply make a judgment call and if someone is impaired, they will be arrested and charged. They certainly haven’t made it easy for us," said Ryder.

Helping to determine whether people who are under the influence of marijuana is Boxborough Police Sgt. Nathan Bowolick, who’s a state certified drug recreation expert. Bowolick uses a gamut of tests to determine sobriety, such as examining blood pressure, pulse, pupil dilation, cognitive ability and coordination, said Ryder.

"He can come with a general synopsis of what somebody is under the influence of. Whether it’s a stimulant or depressant and how much of that is in their system and if it can affect their ability to operate a motor vehicle. It’s a tremendous undertaking that takes a lot of time," said Ryder.

But cities and towns can vote to open up some spaces for public consumption. It has to be in the same location where the product is sold, and, since selling weed isn’t legal until 2018, any such vote won’t happen soon – no Amsterdam-style coffee shops, at least for now.

"If people want to designate spaces [for smoking marijuana], of course we’ll respect that. We just hope we have just enough input in that to make sure it’s safe and in the best interest of the town."

Ryder advises people to refer to the state’s website for a breakdown of details on the new state law.

"They should really educate themselves and not listen to hearsay. They make it as clear as they can. We distributed those same documents to police officers. This is what we’re all getting, so we should all be on the same page."

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Acton And Boxborough Police On Marijuana Legalization
Author: Molly Loughman
Contact: 978-371-5714
Photo Credit: Ed Andrieski
Website: Wicked Local Acton