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Tokers blow smoke at pot fines

Tokers blow smoke at pot fines

By Laurel J. Sweet  |   Monday, November 22, 2010  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Coverage

Potheads who’ve found the grass is greener under the state’s mellowed-out marijuana law have racked up as much as $64,500 in unpaid fines in Boston alone, thumbing their noses at hundreds of citations that cops have written up, but authorities are powerless to enforce.

Now the City Council wants to smoke out the stoner scofflaws.

“Everybody’s laughing in the face of this thing. We need to find a way to tighten up the loopholes that are allowing precious dollars to escape,” said Councilor Stephen J. Murphy, chairman of the committee on public safety.

Of the more than 760 $100 fines written up in Boston this year as of Nov. 4, police list 645 as unpaid with no way of accounting if any were cleared up at courts or by drop-ins to City Hall, a Herald review found.

Murphy has formally requested a public hearing to examine the police department’s struggle to enforce fines for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis. He’s also mulling measures such as seeking the Legislature’s permission to collect overdue dope debts through tax liens — such as the city does now with unpaid trash and snow removal fines under its so-called “Green Ticket Law.”

But Bill Downing, director of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, insists the new right to toke should not have a price tag.

“There’s this concept called freedom. The people of Massachusetts voted to tell the cops to leave these people alone. If they don’t pay their tickets, who cares? What, are you going to float city and town budgets on the backs of the pot-smoking public?”

Presently, a pot-possession ticket is supposed to be paid at police headquarters in 21 days. This year, only 52 tokers made the deadline. Police credited another 63 as being paid off after the due date, including one through South Boston District Court.

Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said, “The police commissioner feels our responsibility is to enforce the law the way it currently stands.”

Cheryl Sibley, chief administrator of Boston Municipal Court, said there is “very limited recourse” for the courts to force payment if potheads don’t request a hearing to fight the ticket and police don’t seek a civil contempt hearing to enforce it.

But the cops and the courts both complain that there is no formal process for the exchange of records, so compliance is hard to track.

But among the locations where Hub cops whacked weed whiffers this year were Boston Latin Academy and Charlestown High, their records show. Murphy suggests that indicates a problem that is not being addressed under the law as it stands.

“My own opinion is, we never should have decriminalized it,” Murphy said. “The question now is what can we develop by way of a system that would allow us to enforce the civil side of it.’’

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1297999

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