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Cambridge Considers Increasing Marijuana Possession Fines

By Soyoung Kim

The Cambridge Police Department is looking to crack down on recreational marijuana use through two new proposed city ordinances which would increase fines for possession of marijuana and for refusal to provide personal information once caught with the drug.

CPD Commissioner Robert C. Haas proposed the two ordinances within a year of the Mass. ballot initiative in which voters overwhelmingly supported changing possession of marijuana from a criminal to a civil offense.

These laws are necessary given the increase in public use of marijuana for both the juvenile and adult age groups over the past year and the police department’s inability to follow up with those who are caught using or carrying the drug, CPD representatives told the Boston Globe.

“The fact (is) that when police officers stop people with an ounce or less of marijuana, they are unable to identify the person,” said CPD spokesperson Daniel M. Riviello. If passed, these ordinances would give police officers the ability to record offenses as well as identify past offenders.

However, dissenting groups, such as the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, told the Globe they believe that the proposals will be ineffective in lowering marijuana use and will only result in more criminal charges due to a lack of education regarding the new law.

Currently, adults caught with an ounce or less of marijuana pay a $100 fine. If the suggested ordinances were passed by the City Council, these fines would be increased. Adults caught consuming marijuana in public would face a $300 charge. Violators of the false name ordinance would be charged $200, plus the additional Cambridge possession fee of $100. Minors caught possessing marijuana currently must pay the same fee as adults and attend an additional drug rehabilitation program or else pay an additional $900 fine.

Whether these ordinances will be passed into law is still uncertain. According to former city mayor and chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, E. Denise Simmons, the Council has begun a vetting process for the proposals. The Committee will bring in experts and listen to testimonies examining the pros and cons of the proposals, and then make a recommendation to the whole City Council before a final vote on the law—a long-term process, in Simmons’s view. She stressed that vetting is important in helping the Council do what’s best for the community.

According to Riviello, the ordinances fulfill that goal.

“We’re not asking for anything that’s different than the drinking in public law that stands,” Riviello said.  “People can’t drink walking down the streets in public—we’re asking the same for marijuana.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: November 10, 2010

An earlier version of the title for the Nov. 10 news article "CPD Considers Increasing Marijuana Possession Fines" incorrectly reported that Cambridge increased fines for marijuana use. In fact, this has only been proposed in two city ordinances that, if passed, would increase fines for possession of marijuana and for refusal to provide personal information once caught with the drug.

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