Saturday, July 19, 2014

167.1 - Good News: a bit of common sense in the "War on Drugs"

Good News: a bit of common sense in the "War on Drugs"

I'm starting, as I try to do every week, with a bit of good news - in this case the good news coming from an unexpected source: It consists of common sense in something related to our perpetual "War on Drugs."

Which is actually something I want to talk about sometime, because it has been a colossal failure that by throwing everything into one pile labeled "drugs" as if everything from marijuana to methamphetamines to heroin were all exactly the same and presented exactly the same dangers, the "War on Drugs" may well have created some of the drug use it aimed to stop by sowing mistrust about warnings about the drugs that do present real dangers: "Hey, you lied to me about that; why shouldn't I think you lied to me about this other?"

Anyway, the good news. Back in 2008, voters in Massachusetts approved a ballot measure to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, making getting caught with less than an ounce of pot punishable by a civil fine of $100; no criminal penalty involved.

Because of that, in 2011 the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the smell of burnt marijuana was not enough of a basis for police to suspect criminal activity. Since possession of less than an ounce was a civil offense and the smell alone did not give police reasonable suspicion that there was a criminal amount of marijuana present, there was no legal basis to treat the situation as if it involved criminality.

Now, in 2014, on July 9 to be exact, the SJC has ruled that police also can't use the smell of raw, that is, unburnt, marijuana as a pretext for assuming criminal activity and so, in this case, searching a car.

"The strength of a smell is ... at best a dubious means for reliably detecting the presence of a criminal amount of marijuana," the court very reasonably concluded. "(The smell of unburnt marijuana) points only to the presence of some marijuana, not necessarily a criminal amount."

So again, the cops can't treat a civil offense as if it were a criminal one just because the horror word "drugs" is invoked.

I say that's good news.

By the way, as a brief Footnote to that, 23 states and the District of Columbia now approve medical marijuana and Florida is one step away from joining the ranks.

Sources cited in links:

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