Court to weigh cops’ limits on pot busts
The Bay State may not have fully inhaled legalized pot yet, but the courts are already getting a lungful — and today the Supreme Judicial Court will pass around a series of THC-laden appeals that test the limits of marijuana rights in Massachusetts, and how far cops can go when they encounter green leafy substances.
When the smoke clears and the court’s opinions are issued, they could “have a substantial chilling effect on our ability to keep our communities safe,” predicted Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.
The SJC is being asked to interpret whether the 63 percent of the electorate that voted in 2008 to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a $100 civil infraction did so with the intent that cops back off the casual user entirely — even in situations where a cop’s gut instinct tells him pot isn’t the only thing that smells funny.
The four cases up for review include pot-prompted warrantless searches of vehicles in Lynn and Dorchester that yielded concealed firearms; whether it is still illegal to cultivate pot plants weighing an ounce or less; and whether one can be frisked for suspected drug dealing for sharing a doobie on Boston Common during Hempfest.
Speaking bluntly, Michael Cutler, a Bay State attorney for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said it seems “silly” someone can do jail time for sharing a joint if police can’t touch them for enjoying it by themselves.
“Understand where the forces of history are headed,” Cutler told the Herald. “The future is legalization.”
Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said, “The intent of the voters was to say, ‘Hey, police, if you find someone with marijuana, what we don’t want is for you to institute a criminal investigation against them.”
Sampson countered, “The passing of one marijuana cigarette between two persons is distribution. That does give an officer probable cause to conduct a search to see if there is something more. We certainly don’t want to stifle good police work that would take drug dealers off the street, or take weapons off the street, or stop gang violence. And I’m sorry, but that’s what police officers do on the street every day.”