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Mass. Police Brace Themselves For Medical Marijuana

BOSTON — On Jan. 1, medical marijuana will become legal in Massachusetts. But the details of the new law are still being hammered out, and if you don’t have a doctor’s approval for the drug you could still be charged with a crime for possessing more than an ounce of it.

On Thursday, the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association put out guidelines for officers on the new law, so WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with the association’s general counsel, Jack Collins, to find out, among other things, whether police can now ask for a medical marijuana ID card if they find someone in possession of marijuana.

Jack Collins: Ultimately, a card, yes. The legislation that got passed here in terms of the ballot does call for a card, and I’m sure a few months from now we’ll have a secure card — something like you might have for a driver’s license, things like that — so we can be sure they’re legitimate. But in the meantime the law provides that’s while that’s happening, basically, you’re going to get a note from your doctor, and we’ll have to honor those. So we’ll get a note from the doctor. We won’t, quite frankly, be really sure that that doctor exists. We won’t really be sure this was the person the note was given to — a lot of grey areas like that. But in the meantime we’ll have to do the best we can.

Sacha Pfeiffer: Let’s say a police officer comes across someone in possession of marijuana. Is the police officer going to say, “Do you have a doctor’s note?”

Yes. What will happen is — and we’re waiting for the courts to tell us exactly how we can phrase this, as silly as it sounds — but our recommendation is we will say to the person, “Show me a doctor’s note, if you have one,” and if they produce one and the amount of marijuana they have on them is reasonably less than a 60-day supply…

Which is how the much the law allows at any one time?

Right. So we don’t know exactly what that means yet. We’re waiting for the Department of Public Health to define that more, but we’ll use common sense for the time being. And if the person has what appears to be more than an ounce, and therefore it’s potentially criminal, but less than a 60-day supply, then we’ll say, “Fine. Go on Have a nice day. Go on your way.”

What if they give you a note and it looks like something they just scrawled by themselves on paper that morning? How will you know if it’s legitimate?

Until the Department of Public Health comes out with regulations, we won’t know if it’s legitimate. And depending on how serious the situation is, the officer might very well say, “Let me call that doctor’s office and see if, in fact, you are who you say you are and if that doctor really issued this,” then that’s probably the kind of thing we’ll do. But doing a whole lot of detective work for a situation that is relatively minor in nature might very well be something the officer doesn’t have time or the ability to do right there.

You’ve said that, since it did pass, you wish it had been passed by the Legislature rather than as a ballot question. How would that have made things different and, presumably, easier for police?

Because what happens when you pass a law through the Legislature legislative process is you have a hearing process, you have an opportunity to work the legislative committees, it goes through a lot of screening, and you can say, “Well, here’s a question. Let’s address that,” or, “This wording here is not very clear. What about that?” So I think the law obviously still would have passed; there’s no question about that. Nobody now is having a sour grapes attitude that, “Boy, you know, we want to slow things down or we’re not happy about it.” It’s just too many grey areas that really nobody can understand.

What about cities and towns that are now passing laws banning medical marijuana dispensaries? I’m wondering if those kinds of restrictions are definitely legal now that medical marijuana is legal?

If you’re a town, in order to pass a zoning bylaw you’ll have to have that approved by the attorney general’s office, and we know that right now they’re taking a look internally at whether or not that kind of a banning of a marijuana facility entirely would be legal.

So, ultimately, towns that have banned marijuana dispensaries — those bans may not hold up?

That’s correct. Keep in mind that this is not a constitutional issue. You can’t ban, for example, adult entertainment because there’s constitutional rights, First Amendment. But this is not a constitutional issue. As a matter of fact, it’s really a violation of federal law. I would suspect that in larger counties if some cities and towns want to ban it entirely that will probably be okay. In smaller counties — Nantucket, for example, where the town and the county are the same thing– and the law requires you to have one in every county, that might be more problematic.

What about police officers who might want to use or even grow medical marijuana? Can they?

It’s pretty clear to us now, and we’re going to make it even clearer next week to all the police in the state, that being a police officer is incompatible with having a medical marijuana certificate for yourself or being a caregiver for somebody else.

Why shouldn’t they be able to if it is now the law?

Well, the law is very clear that this does not trump other provisions, and it says in the law that it doesn’t trump a violation of federal law, so we can’t have police officers violating federal law.

Because federal law still says marijuana possession is illegal?

At this point in time it’s still clearly illegal and we can’t have police officers committing illegal offenses and still holding their jobs.

Have you heard from any Massachusetts police officers who wish they could have or use medical marijuana?

Of course. And I’m not sure whether it’s tongue-in-cheek or they’re very serious about it. I think it’s a little bit of both. Some people have jokingly talked about, “Well, maybe we’ll have to make provisions at the station for people to use it.” I know in that case they’re obviously joking. But the real answer is we’re going to send out notices to all the police officers next week to make sure everybody knows that none of this is going to be allowed.

Earlier Coverage:

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1018680638 Gustavo Picciuto

    It’s amusing that most of the titles of this story reads the word “Braces” like if Massachusetts were going to be hit by a super storm or hurricane or something. Marijuana is already in your towns and cities; this will only make it legal for patients to have access to it, nothing more. ANYONE who wants access to it now can and does get it and rather easily so this whole notion of “bracing” for Marijuana to come into their towns is naive at best and ignorant at worst. Take this opportunity to take Marijuana out of the dimmed lights of the black market and into our control and help some people find relief along the way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      the police need to brace themselves to not blow a gasket when they are forced to let people go

  • malcolmkyle

    Yep, prohibition has failed again! Is anybody really surprised?

    Just like at the end of the 1920s, our prisons are full, our economy is in ruins, the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans have been destroyed or severely disrupted. What was once a shining beacon of liberty and prosperity has become a toxic, repressive, smoldering heap of hypocrisy and a gross affront to fundamental human decency.

    America it is time to wake up! Prohibition is a cultural and economic assault on your money, on your careers, on your ability to put food on the table, have shelter, cloth yourself, and even survive or self-medicate. The fiscal cliff isn’t the crisis. Prohibitionist control over America’s politics and government is.

  • http://twitter.com/DLaun DLaun

    “Quote”"You’ve said that, since it did pass, you wish it had been passed
    by the Legislature rather than as a ballot question. How would that
    have made things different and, presumably, easier for police?”

    The answer that came after this question – I don`t Believe or Accept!

    The “REAL” answer should have been- If it would have been Legislatively done and they wanted to eliminate the program, they could just legislate it away, NOW, With it being passed by the “Voters”, If they want it to go away, They MUST put it on the Ballot to eliminate the law and get “Permission”.
    What the Government gives – They can take away but what the “People” VOTE for, They must go back to the people in order to take it away.

    • Work to Repeal Prohibition

      Maybe this is a case of unintended consequences. For years the people in Massachusetts have tried to get the legislative bodies to address the failure of prohibition and our government leaders have been unable to lead. Massachusetts have tried to get the legislative bodies to address the failure of prohibition and our government leaders have been unable to lead. The Massachusetts Chiefs of police have shown a similar inability
      to offer any meaningful alternatives to the failed policies of
      prohibition. I find it disingenuous for them to now be complaining about
      the way this issue has been moved forward by the will of the people. There was plenty of time to legislatively address these issues and they were not pressing or encouraging anyone to do that then.
      Please stop whining about how this could’ve been done differently
      because you’re a big part of why it wasn’t done that way. This movement
      still has a long way to go and maybe you can start being leaders instead
      of whiners. Come out in favor of the repeal of prohibition and
      encourage our legislative bodies here in the state of Massachusetts to
      do just what it is you did not do regarding this important law. This is your big opportunity to come out on the right side of this issue.
      Let’s all encourage our legislative bodies here in Massachusetts to do
      the right thing, craft a proper law, have all the stakeholders provide
      their input and let’s properly repeal prohibition. The repeal of Prohibition in Massachusetts will be the next referendum question put to the people and it will pass. If the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association
      are sincere about regretting that this wasn’t handled by the
      legislative bodies, then join us in insisting that the legislative
      process to repeal prohibition in Massachusetts begins now. have shown a similar inability to offer any meaningful alternatives to the failed policies of prohibition. I find it disingenuous for them to now be complaining about the way this issue has been moved forward by the will of the people. There was plenty of time to legislatively address these issues and they were not pressing or encouraging anyone to do that then. Please stop whining about how this could’ve been done differently because you’re a big part of why it wasn’t done that way. This movement still has a long way to go and maybe you can start being leaders instead of whiners. Come out in favor of the repeal of prohibition and encourage our legislative bodies here in the state of Massachusetts to do just what it is you did not do regarding this important law. This is your big opportunity to come out on the right side of this issue. Let’s all encourage our legislative bodies here in Massachusetts to do the right thing, craft a proper law, have all the stakeholders provide their input and let’s properly repeal prohibition. The repeal of Prohibition in Massachusetts will be the next referendum question put to the people. If the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association are sincere about regretting that this wasn’t handled by the legislative bodies, then join us in insisting that the legislative process to repeal prohibition in Massachusetts begins now.

  • http://twitter.com/Cannadude Cannadude

    The states always insist that people are on time filing for ballot petitions or voting or even registering your car but why is it they are always late implementing guidelines that THEY are responsible for on a timely basis? Who’s the slackers now?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-OHara/1074593629 Chris O’Hara

    You have to love the town selectmens response…..buy it on the black market like everyone else……
    Their utter cluelessness at how much is already around ….

    Fact its everywhere every social level every economic level every high scool every prison all walks of life from doctors to bus boys to police and fire teachers

    Until the niave wake up your going to read a lot of things like
    Before we unleash a dangerious addictive drug into our communities we need regulations controls zoning or an outright ban….

    Politicians and law enforement will never tell the rank and file voter how much cannabis is really out there because they dont want you know the real truth…..that they are wasting tax dollars only to pad thier salaries and bugets ……

    When the drug use studies come out if there no change in use rates suppression is working if use rates increase we need more money……

    Its always win win for the prohibitionists and loss of civil and human rights for the public

  • AgentOfTruth

    I see my Doc tomorrow, and Praise The Lord I have prearranged to get my ‘note’ (legal certification)at that time. On Jan 2 I am heading to Rhode Island to acquire my very first LEGAL HERB. BadaBing.

    • Paul Perry

      i GO ON 1-14-12 IN FRAMINGHAM MASS,,,ROCK ON DUDE,,,ANY GOOD?? HOW MUCH DO THEY GIVE YOU?? AND HOW MUCH DID YOU HAVE TO PAY, i AM GOING TO USE A COMPANY CALLED CANA MED

  • disqus_TgIFeHyury

    My pain doctor told me I have to stop smoking weed or else no more pain pills. Can she do that now that pot is legal in Massachusetts ?

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