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Five Massachusetts towns favor leniant marijuana laws

People in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana could soon be subject to a mere civil violation as opposed to criminal prosecution in five Massachusetts towns, following overwhelming approval of non-binding ballot questions last month.

On Election Day, Ispwich, Framingham, Winchester and Harwich voters appealed to lawmakers to back legislation making possession of less than an ounce of the drug a civil violation — similar to a traffic ticket — instead of a criminal offense. Fines would be no more than $100.

The voting evidence could signal a shift in public attitude about the state’s war on drugs. BU students, in particular, were shocked of the decision.

“I am surprised that there is a push to weaken the laws,” said College of Communication freshman Rebecca Zarodnansky. “However, I think [marijuana use is] a personal choice. Some people use it and some people don’t, and it seems like the government is realizing that.”

Dave Blauch, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education, agreed that the law needs to be changed. He said since marijuana use “is so prevalent, it should be treated as a medicine and a recreational drug, similar to alcohol.” With age limitations and enumerated restrictions, legalization would be a good step, he said.

In March, voters in Amherst called for a similar law, and urged town police to de-emphasize enforcement of marijuana possession laws.

“I am not surprised that people are trying to lessen the restrictions on marijuana because the current laws seem ineffective,” said SED freshman Laura Swirsky. “If people really want marijuana, they will find ways to get it.”

“Marijuana smoke in its natural state is no more harmful than substances which are already legal. The fact that it’s not legal now doesn’t make it hard to get or hard to use. Now it’s just a pointless hassle to get it,” said COM sophomore Noah Mark.

An additional proposal would boost the state’s 1996 medical marijuana law by allowing people to grow it on their own. The law, which enables people to use the drug for certain illnesses, is on hold because people would have to register with a state Department of Health research project and federal law currently prohibits such projects.

“I know someone who is suffering from cancer and if marijuana would make her feel better, I would be in favor of it,” said CAS freshman Haley Olam. “If people are suffering from medical ailments, doctors should be able to use any means necessary to make them feel better.”

COM freshman Nicole O’Neil disagreed.

“A lot of people use medical reasons as an excuse [for marijuana use] when there are already a lot of drugs that can be used instead,” she said, adding that she thought marijuana was a gateway drug. Legalization of it “would lead to an overall increase in drug use,” she said.

Whether or not the laws are adopted by legislators remains to be seen.

But according to Liz Bradley, an employee of Campus Convenience and senior at Bunker Hill Community College, there is no question about where the debate is headed.

“Eventually [marijuana is] going to be legalized, because all they care about is making money,” she said. “I think it would be sold everywhere.”

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