Marijuana laws to change by January

Voters in Massachusetts passed a ballot initiative last Tuesday on Election Day that called for changes to the state’s marijuana policy. According to a press release from the Governor’s Office, the new law calls for the decriminalization of marijuana in amounts less than one ounce and is slated to take effect in late December or early January. However, campus officials have asserted that the law will not lead to any policy changes in the near future.

Williamstown Police Department (WPD) Chief Kyle Johnson made it clear that this law does not legalize marijuana.

Under the current law, “anyone found with marijuana in their possession is subject to criminal summons or arrest,” Johnson said. The new law will not make marijuana legal but will change the repercussions for possession of small amounts.

Under the new law, a person in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will receive a civil citation, as opposed to a criminal charge, and the marijuana will be seized. “If there is more than one ounce, or if it is packaged to distribute, the current criminal sanctions will still apply,” Johnson said.

Johnson does not foresee any changes in the way marijuana possession is handled between the College and WPD. Jean Thorndike, director of Campus Security, agreed with this statement, noting that Security will still call the police upon receiving reports of marijuana or coming across signs of marijuana use. “We have a very straightforward ‘see it, smell it, report it’ policy,” Thorndike said.

“We want students to understand the new law. We don’t want anyone thinking that it’s open season for pot on campus,” she added.

Thorndike made it clear that nothing about the College’s marijuana policy is changing. “Possession of marijuana is still illegal, regardless of how much there is,” Thorndike said. “We hope that students have no misconceptions or confusion about this law, and any questions should be brought to Security or the police.”

The College’s own means of addressing student drug use will also remain the same. Dean Merrill noted that the police will be notified as usual, and “if the student is reported a third time, we begin to address it in the Dean’s Office.”

Until the state of Massachusetts officially puts the law into effect, neither the College nor WPD will know the full extent of the changes. “The state is still in the process of figuring this out,” Thorndike said. When the law does go into effect, the College will continue discussions with WPD to alleviate any problems or questions. “We’ll work with WPD to determine the best way to address it,” Merrill said.

Mixed opinions of officials in Boston have sparked a debate over the benefits of the new law and the possible negative implications. Law enforcement officials cited in the press release worry that the measure could lead to the eventual legalization of marijuana and an increase in crime.

The state government is in the process of discussing the law before officially presenting it to the governor. “At this time, we are reviewing all the implications of the new law and whether further clarification or guidance is needed,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley in a statement.