Reason and justice prevailed this week in Massachusetts, where the Commonwealthâ€™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, itâ€™s an important step forward for marijuana decriminalization. The justices took seriously the notion that when Massachusetts voters said they didnâ€™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 wasnâ€™t just about lowering the penalty for personal-use possession to $100; it was about changing the Commonwealthâ€™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 havenâ€™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.