The above article does a good job describing some of the law enforcement questions surrounding the new referendum decriminalizing less than one ounce of marijuana in Massachusetts.
Here's a prediction for the New Year: The sky won't fall, criminals won't run rampant, and jogging around the South Common won't put you at risk for a contact high anytime in 2009.
Plenty of other states have taken the step of decriminalizing marijuana. Die-hards on either side will cling to their own biases, but the most immediate effects anyone can point to are the lack of time spent arresting, processing, and booking marijuana defendants, and the lightened burden on the judicial system.
I spent a good portion of the afternoon yesterday listening to 96.9, and was amazed to hear how many people made dire predictions, seemingly without realizing that alcohol is already quite legal and widely available.
Just because marijuana is decriminalized does NOT mean that legions of people are going to suddenly stop working, stop parenting, stop producing, etc. and just sit around to toke. Yes, there may be some but I would counter that alcohol is proven to be far more physiologically addictive. Alcoholism is a problem, for sure, and society seems to function around it.
And your kid brother that started smoking marijuana before getting into more serious trouble? Ask him whether cigarettes or beer preceded the weed. The overwhelming majority of people who try marijuana never "progress" to cocaine or heroin, just as the overwhelming majority of people who learn to ride a bicycle never become motorcycle riders, despite the supposed "Gateway" properties of the one-speed Schwinn.
(More on motorcyles later...you may not have known this but they've taken the lives of more Marines in the past year than Iraq, and it's not even close).
And lastly, yes, we all know about the "failure to launch" twentysomething who likes to smoke dope. For every one of those, I'll show you two basement dwellers who don't smoke, and another two successful, productive members of society who do it recreationally.
Well, by now you can probably tell which way I voted. I may not have a personal stake in the matter (Dept. of Defense urinalysis doesn't give a rip what my state said last November), but I would prefer not to see the courts clogged, the police overburdened, and young lives ruined (and by ruined, I mean blots on their record that might prevent future employment by Uncle Sam), because of a minor indiscretion that's arguably about on par with alcohol in terms of bodily harm.
And yes, it does surprise me a bit that the most vociferous opponents of the new law seem to be the Police Departments themselves...so, we'll just have to see how it all plays out, but as I started the post by saying, Massachusetts isn't navigating uncharted waters here. With the sky having remained intact elsewhere, it ought to here as well.