WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – On December 14, Westfield Police Capt. Michael McCabe had to read through and analyze 85 pages of documents related to the new marijuana law–and that was just the beginning.
With the legalization of marijuana, local police departments like Westfield’s are finding that it is becoming difficult to implement and enforce due to the already in-place labyrinth of laws. The result is an uncertain and unclear interpretation of the new law, which will make policing of the substance confusing.
“It’s not an easy law to decipher,” McCabe said. “Laws should be able to be deciphered easily by citizens–that’s the point of law.”
McCabe said that among the 85 pages he is using to help his force implement the law, 25 are of the law itself, 52 are from the Department of Mental Health and another eight are from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPSS), with the EOPSS document citing several other laws, including those related to operation of vehicles.
The concern with this though, is that it is very difficult for officers to charge someone with impaired driving that isn’t alcohol-related. There is no testing that is reliable to measure marijuana intoxication, so officers have to rely on physical observations related to operators being “high.” Still, in Massachusetts there are only around 100 officers in the entire state who have been trained as drug recognition experts (DREs), according to the Massachusetts DRE website.
DREs have been trained to recognize the physical impairments that are typical with specific drug use through the Drug Evaluation and Classification program in Massachusetts, and gives them greater authority in citing drivers. This does not mean that officers cannot cite operators for driving while impaired, but it can cause an issue in court and makes it harder for the charges to stay.
According to the Massachusetts DRE website, there are no DREs in Westfield, Southwick, Granville, Tolland, Russell or Blandford. The nearest one is in West Springfield, with several others in Northampton.
McCabe said that another point of confusion with the law is that while it is legal to have marijuana in your home, the possession standards are in a grey area for law enforcement. As an example, under the new law in chapter 94G, section 13b, it is illegal to possess more than an ounce of marijuana in your residence unless the marijuana and its products are secured by locks–but the law gives no specific on how much you can have behind a a secure lock.
Also, according to 94G, section 13c, marijuana smoking is prohibited in public non-smoking areas, but can be smoked wherever tobacco products can be smoked outdoors. This could lead to concerns for some, especially when you consider the ban of public intoxication and open alcoholic beverages on public ways.
However, one part that is clear for McCabe and other officers in Westfield, is that public ordinance is still enforceable when it comes to marijuana.
“People can still get hit with a $100 fine due to city ordinance, even if you have under an ounce,” McCabe said.
McCabe said that the department has remained diligent in trying to implement the law correctly and will continue to study the laws as they become clearer. In the meanwhile, confusion is inevitable.
“I believe frustration levels for local law enforcement agencies will be very high for a while,” he said.