In Massachusetts two years ago, a person could be arrested for smoking a joint. Even a first-offense possession of Class D (marijuana) charge carried up to six months in jail. Now, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is not a crime. It is merely a civil infraction. In fact, the consequences for marijuana possession now are even less severe than for a parking ticket.
A police officer may fine you $100 for possession or use of the drug. But unlike with a motor vehicle stop, if an officer stops you on the street for smoking pot, you do not even have to tell him your name. As executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association Wayne Samson says, “If [the person stopped] tells [the officer] their name is Yogi Berra or Ronald McDonald, nothing allows for further positive identification.” Further, unlike with speeding or even parking tickets, which can have collateral license consequences with the RMV or may even turn in to criminal cases if unpaid, marijuana citations are, in all practicality, unenforceable. The only way to enforce collection of these fines would be for the government to take offenders to small claims court, which is certainly far more effort an expense than recouping $100 is worth. So until the laws are redrafted, police can try to cite you for smoking pot, but they really have no way of making you pay the fine.
For more on this issue, see last week’s article in the Huffington Post.