To the editor:
I was surprised and disappointed to read that, once again, the Newburyport City Council is considering a new, local marijuana law that directly contradicts the 2008 Question 2 decriminalization referendum. Three years ago, Newburyport voters approved Question 2 with a vote of 7,261 to 3,483, or 68 percent to 32 percent — over 2 to 1 in favor and also exceeding the statewide average of 65 percent.
Question 2 did not change the illegal status of cannabis, but it made three major revisions to the commonwealth’s marijuana law by changing the penalty for possession of small amounts. The possibility of jail time was removed; the maximum fine was reduced from $500 to $100. Most significantly, Question 2 removed the power to arrest by making possession a civil offense rather than criminal.
Councilor Brian Derrivan’s ordinance proposes a new $300 fine for “consumption” of marijuana, plus new, additional $100 fines for possession of marijuana, possession in public or possession within certain parts of town. Perhaps most disturbingly, the ordinance restores the police power to arrest violators. So, the total fine for marijuana violators returns to $500 or more, and the power to arrest for simple possession is restored, effectively gutting the initiative passed by residents.
I’m sorry to hear that 10 high school students have been caught with marijuana. I’m sure we all agree that children using marijuana is totally inappropriate. However, the high school has nearly 800 students, they all have parents in town, and together we voted — we chose, by a large margin, to change policy on the way young people and others are treated by authorities in Massachusetts.
There is no way to know why 68 percent of us voted for Question 2. Perhaps to stop young people from receiving criminal arrest records that could damage school and career prospects. Maybe people wanted to spend our limited public resources on education instead of law enforcement. Or maybe it was the hypocrisy of punishing young people so harshly for something that many U.S. presidents and politicians have admitted doing.
Andrea Egmont protests the teen excuse of “everyone does it,” used in vain attempts to justify breaking the rules. But how can we ask young people to follow our principles for healthy and disciplined living, when we can’t even adhere to the basic rules of democracy? A small group of officials reversing a widely approved ballot initiative is a violation of the most fundamental tenets of democracy.
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence states that governments “derive their just power from the consent of the governed.” Indeed, Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.”
Well, just as we might point out to a young person all the successful, “cool” people who have not used drugs or alcohol, here are some of our municipal peers that have not negated the voters’ will with new marijuana laws: Haverhill, Merrimac, Amesbury, West Newbury, Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, Georgetown, Groveland, Essex, Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, Hamilton, Wenham, Topsfield, Boxford.
Published: Newburyport Daily News, December 14, 2011