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With SJC's Marijuana Ruling, Law Officials' Work May Be Affected

This article is more than 12 years old.

Across the state, law enforcement officials are figuring out how their work will be affected by a marijuana ruling in the Supreme Judicial Court this week. The state's highest court said the smell of marijuana smoke is not reason enough for police officers to search a vehicle.

Many police departments say the ruling bars them from using a crime-fighting tool. But in 67 Massachusetts towns there's an extra tool in the box: a marijuana bylaw. Southborough passed one after the 2008 ballot question that made possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a civil, rather than a criminal, offense.

"The town bylaw has allowed the police to issue citations, as you would if you were driving a motor vehicle and you were speeding," said Southborough Police Chief Jane Moran. "If you got caught in the town smoking marijuana, say in a town park or in a motor vehicle passing through the town of Southborough, we could issue you a citation and it has attached to it a monetary fine."

Moran said the bylaw, and her officers, abide by the SJC ruling. This week's decision is specific to odor, she said, and does not cover other factors an officer may encounter.

"Well it could be something such as speeding or it could be something such as drunk driving," Moran said. "Maybe he ran the number plate and it was a revoked license. He's not stopping it for the observation of burnt marijuana. He's stopping it for another criminal activity."

Meanwhile, Chris Dearborn, a constitutional law professor at Suffolk University, said there are other issues at play in the SJC's ruling. Dearborn joined Morning Edition Thursday to discuss those issues.


This program aired on April 21, 2011.

Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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