Massachusetts towns are enacting bylaws that impose fines for public smoking of marijuana — a tactic that advocates consider an effort to subvert the will of voters who overwhelmingly approved marijuana decriminalization in the Commonwealth last fall.
The Boston Globe reported March 25 that in recent weeks at least seven communities have passed ordinances targeting public marijuana use, with more cities and towns expected to vote on similar measures.
Proponents compare the statutes to open-container laws that ban drinking alcohol in public. Police officials said they want to discourage flagrant marijuana smoking, particularly in public parks, schoolyards, and on local beaches.
“If you're smoking marijuana in front of schoolchildren, to me that's a little bit more serious than smoking a joint by yourself out in the middle of the woods,” said Brian Gilligan, a captain in the Salem police department. Salem recently authorized police to fine public marijuana smokers $300 in addition to the $100 fine for possession. The bylaw also allows officers to issue a misdemeanor summons for smoking marijuana in public.
Marijuana advocates argued that the local laws are unnecessary. “This seems to be much more about people who never liked the [decriminalization] law to begin with looking for an end run around the will of the voters,” said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.
The measure approved by Massachusetts voters made possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense but also allowed each city and town to enact bylaws to ban the public use of marijuana.
A sample bylaw — provided by state Attorney General Martha Coakley's office — says fines can be imposed, a criminal penalty, or both, in addition to the $100 possession fine. It is being used as a blueprint for legislation by many cities and towns.