Now that Marijuana is Legalized in Massachusetts, Can You Still Be Arrested For Using or Possessing It?

Well, as of midnight tonight, marijuana is finally legalized in Massachusetts.  Despite the dire predictions of tone-deaf politicians and law enforcement officials, despite the moral protestations of religious leaders including the Catholic church, the voters of Massachusetts saw through the smoke and mirrors (pardon the pun,) and approved what so many other states have already done:  Made possession of limited amounts of cannabis legal. Voters here had already decriminalized marijuana in 2008, and approved medical marijuana in 2012.  Reflecting the cluelessness of many of Beacon Hill, all three measures had to be approved by citizen ballot measures, as the legislature consistently refused to act. In a growing trend of sanity on this issue, Massachusetts voters joined voters in Maine, California, and Nevada on Nov. 8.  Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, Alaska, and the District of Columbia also voted to legalize marijuana in recent years.

As a Massachusetts drug offenses attorney, I have been calling for full legalization of marijuana for some time now, echoing the views of many courageous and insightful law enforcement leaders within Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP,) which is a national organization of law enforcement professionals, medical professionals, and attorneys who know how very destructive the U.S. “War on Drugs” has been since its inception 60-plus years ago.

Right now, though, I want to remind my readers of one important fact:  People in Massachusetts (whether residents or not,) cannot simply do anything they want when it comes to marijuana – the new legalization measure provides for several restrictions – which I believe for the immediate, are fair and reasonable.  Here’s an outline for my readers of what you can and can’t do under the new law, as of midnight tonight:

First, retail stores selling cannabis won’t become a reality in Massachusetts until January 2018 at the earliest – and that assumes that the state doesn’t royally botch the retail licensing process the way it did when medical marijuana was enacted by ballot several years ago. The law requires the state treasurer to appoint, by March 2017, a Cannabis Control Commission made up of three people to regulate the new retail pot industry.  Supposedly – and that’s a big qualifier – this commission is required to issue regulations — on everything from packaging requirements designed to keep kids from eating marijuana edibles,  to employee standards in pot shops — by the mid-September 2017.  Don’t hold your breath on this one.

So, how is someone allowed to legally acquire marijuana, and what can police do to you if they stop you and you’ve got cannabis on you?

  • It depends on how old you are  – you need to be at leat 21 years of age – and how much marijuana you have in your possession – a maximum of one ounce is allowed.  Any amount over one ounce, remains an arrestable and prosecutable offense.
  • You cannot smoke or “consume” (eat, drink, vape) marijuana in public places or in any other public spaces where other smoking is also prohibited – so don’t think you can just “light up” anywhere.
  • You can possess marijuana in your home. The law permits persons age 21 and over to cultivate up to six plants per person, up to a maximum of 12 plants per household.  Any plants exceeding 12 is subject to prosecution.  Also, selling it is illegal – nothing of value can change hands, either when the cannabis is exchanged, or later.
  • Even though pot is still illegal under federal law, for adults 21 years of age and older, possession, use, and home-growing are now legal here.
  • Giving marijuana free to minors will remain illegal. Selling it in any way outside the still-to-be regulated market, can subject you to arrest and prosecution.  Maximum penalties:  Incarceration for up to two years, and fines as high as $5,000.
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana will be illegal – but in my opinion as a Wrentham, Massachusetts OUI lawyer, prosecution of these arrests is going to be made difficult due to the fact that no reliable testing equipment has yet been brought to market that can measure marijuana in the bloodstream, the way that a breathalyzer can detect a blood-alcohol limit of .08 or higher.
  • Police can no longer legally seize small quantities of for ‘forfeiture,’ as has been done so commonly by cops in the past, as such small quantities no longer constitute contraband.

Legalization is a sound and wise change in public policy regarding marijuana.  Now to all who care to use it, I have the following message:  Do so responsibly and prudently.  Do NOT drive if you have consumed pot – whether by smoking or eating.  Having a legal right, and abusing that right, are two different things.  Show the doomsayers and naysayers who opposed legalization, that they were wrong about their dire social predictions about legalization.  Do the right thing, and be responsible if you use cannabis.

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