New pot law blamed as violence escalates
By Laurel J. Sweet and O’Ryan Johnson | http://www.bostonherald.com | Local Politics
BIG TIME: Nantucket police recovered 107 marijuana plants in two separate areas over the summer.
Photo by Nantucket PD
Since recreational marijuana use was decriminalized in Massachusetts last year, pot-related trafficking and violence have escalated across the state, frustrated law enforcement officials tell the Herald.
Smoking weed is not a victimless crime, they say.
“We knew it was going to be a nightmare for public safety and law enforcement. An ounce of marijuana can make a thousand joints,” Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. said. “Question 2 perpetuated a feeling that marijuana is somehow safer than other drugs. It’s another mind-altering substance. What are we doing in this country? Can’t anyone get through the day without a drink or a drug?”
In November 2008, by nearly 2 to 1, Bay Staters voted to snuff out the threat of jail time for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis in favor of a $100 civil fine, proceeds from which are intended to puff up city and town coffers. The law, however, provides no enforcement mechanism for police to collect the money. Stiffer penalties for buying or selling the drug, or possessing more than an ounce, remain in place.
“Marijuana trafficking is no different from the wholesale distribution of any illicit substance. It’s accompanied by guns and violence in the short term and it floods communities with illegal drugs in the long term. It threatens public safety and public health,” said Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley. He said his open trafficking cases — dealing in 50 pounds of pot or more — have hit a historic high since the passage of Question 2 by doubling from roughly two prosecutions at any one time to four.
Several recent high-profile killings have been linked by law enforcement to pot, including:
- The Sept. 30 fatal shooting of Adam Coveney, 29, of Waltham. Four men, including a Newton North High School senior, have been charged in connection with the alleged dealer robbery and murder.
- The Sept. 28 massacre of four people in Mattapan — among them, a 21-year-old woman and her 2-year-old son — allegedly in a pot-dealing turf dispute.
- The May 2009 fatal shooting of Justin Cosby, 21, inside a Harvard University dorm, allegedly in a bid to rob him of pot and cash.
- The June 2009 murder of Tyriffe Lewis, 17, in Callahan State Park in Framingham, where prosecutors say he was lured by two men seeking revenge in a fight over marijuana.
In Boston, where one of the most shocking mass killings in recent city history was pot-related, police Commissioner Edward Davis blames drugs in general for surging violence — 65 murders compared to 44 last year at this time. Of Question 2, he said, “I can tell you I’m concerned. I wish we had gone another way in Massachusetts.”
But Mike Meno of the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project, which helped push Question 2, faults partial decriminalization for the violence: “If they’re worried about the criminal element, the answer is to end the criminalization of marijuana and regulate it like alcohol. Marijuana is not going away. Anyone who believes that is naive. It’s used by millions of Americans.”
Leone said he fears decriminalization has created a booming “cottage industry” for dope dealers to target youths no longer fearing the stigma of arrest or how getting high could affect their already dicey driving. Leone’s combined distribution and trafficking caseload rose from 445 in 2008 to 464 in 2009. This year’s caseload stood at 422 as of last week, on track to match or exceed last year.
Leone, who is handling the Framingham, Waltham and Cambridge murder cases, said, “What we’re seeing now is an unfortunate and totally predictable outcome. It’s a cash-and-carry business.” With more small-time dealers operating, he said, turf encroachment is inevitable. “That tends to make drug dealers angry.”
In Essex County, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said his marijuana trafficking case load jumped from three in 2007 and one in 2008 to eight in 2009.
“It’s a dangerous business,” Blodgett said. “We’ve had arrests of people who’ve never been involved in trafficking before but got involved in the game. And whenever that happens, there’s going to be violence.”
Wellesley Deputy Police Chief William Brooks III, speaking on behalf of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said, “The whole thing is a mess. The perception out there among a lot of people is it’s OK to do it now, so there’s an uptick in the number of people wanting to do it. . . . Most of the drug-related violence you see now — the shootings, the murders — is about weed.”
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