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Can the courts step up and make a difference?

Massachusetts High Court Limits Police Searches in Small Marijuana Cases

Reason and justice prevailed this week in Massachusetts, where the Commonwealth’s highest court ruled by a 5-1 margin in Commonwealth v. Cruz that police can no longer search or seize someone they suspect of possessing a small amount of marijuana. The basis for this ACLU victory was the Massachusetts ballot measure known as Question 2, which made possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction instead of a crime. Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved Question 2 with 65 percent of the vote in November 2008. […]

First, and most obviously, it’s an important step forward for marijuana decriminalization. The justices took seriously the notion that when Massachusetts voters said they didn’t want police harassing marijuana users or using limited law enforcement resources to combat minor drug use, they meant it. In the words of the court:

By mandating that possession of such a small quantity of marijuana become a civil violation, not a crime, the voters intended to treat offenders who possess one ounce or less of marijuana differently from perpetrators of drug crimes. . .The statute does away with traditional criminal consequences, including the long-term and embarrassing effect that a criminal record has on employment or applying for school loans, demonstrating the intent of the voters to change the societal impact of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana.

The court understood that Question 2 wasn’t just about lowering the penalty for personal-use possession to $100; it was about changing the Commonwealth’s whole attitude about marijuana. Criminalizing marijuana makes criminals out of ordinary people and wastes police resources to do so. The people of Massachusetts have had enough of this. Even if police haven’t gotten the message yet, the court did.

I’m sure someone will claim that this is an example of an “activist court.” Yet I’ve never understood the use of that term when the court stood up for the rights of citizens. Isn’t that what the court’s supposed to do? Act as a check on the executive and judicial branches to make sure they don’t take more power unto themselves than the people or the Constitution have given them?

This is a great decision. It provides a check on law enforcement run amuck.

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15 comments to Can the courts step up and make a difference?

  • Dante

    “The people of Massachusetts have had enough of this. Even if police haven’t gotten the message yet, the court did.”

    Now just get 49 more state supreme courts to rule in the same way and Ding Dong The Witch is Dead.

  • Ben

    @Dante I’m sure this ruling will encourage other supreme courts to consider doing their jobs instead of being political monkeys. Hopefully at least.

  • darkcycle

    Beautiful. What a good way to start my day. Thanks, Pete.
    Isn’t judicial activism when the courts extend a statute or regulation beyond the scope of it’s original intent? Wasn’t the original intent as stated in the court’s opinion? That the people of Mass. wanted the possession of small amount of drugs to be treated like a traffic infraction?
    I’m sure SOME prohibitionist will call this “judicial activism”, but it clearly is not.

  • Just Legalize It

    “The odor of burnt marijuana is no longer enough for police officers to order a person from their car, now that possession of less than an ounce of marijuana has been decriminalized in Massachusetts, the state’s highest court ruled today.

    “Without at least some other additional fact to bolster a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the odor of burnt marijuana alone cannot reasonably provide suspicion of criminal activity to justify an exit order,” the court ruled in a decision written by Chief Justice Roderick Ireland.”

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2011/04/sjc_odor_of_mar.html

  • David Marsh

    Pete, very interesting case. Evidence suppression of 4g of crack. Did not meet the three requirements for the warrantless search of an automobile. They’ll learn to go after the DUI not the possession.

  • Scott

    Is this going to put Massachusetts’ current drug K-9s out of work? If the police can no longer legally search for small amounts of marijuana, it would seem they would be compelled to get new dogs that aren’t trained to hit on cannabis.

  • liberalize

    It’s very easy for a cop to manufacture another reason why a stop was warranted–especially after the fact.

    Officer Dunphy saw a bulge in the suspect’s pants and perceived it to be a weapon. He had to physically restrain the suspect who was non-compliant, hostile, and actively resisting arrest. Thus, the injuries sustained by the suspect, while regrettable, are not enough to establish the guilt of Officer Dunphy.

    Shorter version: This won’t change shit.

  • Windy

    I shared this article on facebook and this is what I wrote:
    This is NOT an “activist judicial decision” this court ruled on a law passed by the People of Massachusetts. An activist judge MAKES law from the bench out of whole cloth, a mere ruling on a law already on the books does NOT meet the definition of judicial activism.

    Having gone back to read the comments after posting this, I note that darkcycle came to the same conclusion as I.

  • Scott

    Arguably the greatest example of judicial activism results from the Supreme Court “interpretation” of the Commerce Clause in our Constitution.

    In its original form, the Commerce Clause is:

    “to regulate Commerce, with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;”

    Our Supreme Court “interpreted” that clause to authorize a ban against the free growth, free distribution, and free possession of marijuana, importantly noting even if all such activities are conducted within a single state.

    The interpretation is completely irrational, and so obviously not an interpretation.

    Along the legal precedence extending from the Commerce Clause, our Supreme Court ruled that Congress has authority to regulate any activity having a substantial affect on interstate commerce (as long as it is rational).

    Putting aside that your thought activity always rationally has that substantial affect by determining every part of your buying and selling decisions (i.e. the Supreme Court is way out of line here), Gonzales v. Raich took the “interpretation” one step further.

    If a non-economic activity is part of a scheme of legislation to regulate interstate commerce, then Congress has authority to regulate such activity.

    The Controlled Substances Act is without question that scheme of legislation, importantly noting the absence of another scheme of legislation authorizing the CSA initially.

    If our government can regulate your thought activity, where is the legal limit of federal government power?

    No where.

    That is judicial activism at its most destructive.

    If interpretation is capable of being extremely abused to a point negating the definition of interpretation, then the document being “interpreted” has no power.

    If the masses fail to publicly denounce their Supreme Court for exercising such unbelievably outrageous conduct, our nation will continue to be consumed by a law interpreted ironically to condone the abandoning of law.

    There clearly is an effective public servant revolution against the limits of power set in our Constitution.

    The ‘war on abuse’ fuels that revolution, whether it be abuse in the private sector, of drugs, etc.

    The “Supreme Court” operates on the front line of that revolution, and the mainstream media endorses that operation by remaining silent about the most newsworthy event in American history.

  • jewel

    A bit off subject– I am aware that the issue of Drug Courts is somewhat controversial among reformers, but, with the current laws it can mean the difference of serving a long wasteful prison sentence or actively living in society while completing a mandated program of reform.
    This is why I must applaud our representatives for bringing House Bill 265 to our Governor. It is a step in the right direction.
    http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/section/203/article/49417/

  • Peter

    When the day of commonsense finally comes, the next problem will be what to do about the millions of people with convictions who have had their lives severely impacted by prohibition. Will there be a general pardon? If there was any justice at all, those who had forfeited their houses,faced imprisonment, been denied student loans, been deported, been refused jobs, been denied the vote would be entitled to compensation. Somehow I can’t see it happening.

    • Duncan20903

      The Alaskan Supreme Court today overturned a grow op bust conviction because they didn’t believe that it could be smelled from 500 feet away. No, not a dog sniff, a dirtball police investigator sniff. He probably approached the grow building and smelled it and in his report said he smelled it from the toad in front of the home. The thought that the smell was leaking is really fucking unlikely in Alaska in February. The growers would have been required to keep it sealed just so their plants wouldn’t freeze to death.

      http://www.adn.com/2011/04/24/1826162/judge-says-trooper-couldnt-have.html

      That’s a very lively comments section
      ———————————————————————————————————————-
      .
      Peter, it doesn’t even matter if it does turn out that cannabis contains the cure for cancer, potheads are never going to get credit for anything we accomplish. The people will blame us for the delay if it comes to fruition. “We’d have discovered this 20 years ago if the potheads would just have obeyed orders!”

      You know, I just found out that the guy who holds the NBA career scoring record with over 6,000 points more than scored by Michael Jordan has been a lifelong pothead. Kareem Abdul Jabbar is an SB-420 card carrying medicinal cannabis user today because he suffers from leukemia. He got caught with pot in 1972 and again right around the turn of the century. Oh yeah, right, pot makes you lazy. Sheesh!

  • This is not my America

    …And then we have Nuts like Bill O’reilly going off the deep end saying this law allows cannabis consumers to drive ‘legally’ while under the influence of cannabis.

    Now All of us here know that this law doesnt say that…so does Bill O, he just uses it as a means to confuse the public and further try demonize cannabis consumers. DUI of any sort IS still illegal.

    Shame on You Bill O’Reilly.

  • I want to see a special edition made by the same guys that make “Girls Gone Wild” and make it “Us Government Gone Wild” and “Police Gone Wild”.