Marijuana policy is sweeping the nation with eight states and Washington D.C. allowing recreational use of cannabis. One of the most important states in the campaign to legalize recreational cannabis, Massachusetts, created marijuana policy that comes with its restrictions. Massachusetts marijuana policy allows the growing, gifting and carrying of small amounts weed, but prohibits the sale.
Bay Staters last week celebrated their new freedom to carry and gift up to an ounce of marijuana, displaying the drug openly on the State House steps on Thursday, the day the marijuana legalization ballot law took effect.
Had they brought bags of pot to celebrate at Hanscom Air Force Base, aboard the Acela or at Race Point Beach on the tip of Cape Cod, those revelers might have subjected themselves to a federal citation.
Peter Elikann, a criminal defense attorney who has represented a few people caught with marijuana on federal property, said that in some ways federal prosecution is worse than how state courts used to handle possession charges.
Whereas state prosecutors used to agree to a continued-without-finding ruling along with probation and potentially drug counseling, federal prosecutors seem more inclined to proceed toward a conviction, Elikann said.
“You don’t necessarily want to ruin that person’s future on a one-time relatively minor first-time offense,” said Elikann, who is the former chair of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section. He said, “You don’t want to ruin their future forever with a conviction that will come back to haunt them the rest of their life.”
The manner and means by which federal agencies plan to keep up their enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws varies from department to department.
At Logan International Airport, where Transportation Security Administration agents perform body-scans and luggage checks to ensure no weapons make it aboard airplanes, a different approach is taken toward illegal drugs.
When a TSA agent encounters illicit materials in someone’s luggage – such as an ounce of marijuana or a stack of fraudulent credit cards – the matter is referred to law enforcement, according to TSA spokesman Michael McCarthy. At Logan, state police have jurisdiction, he said.
A letter from Public Safety and Security Secretary Daniel Bennett to State Police Col. Richard McKeon spells out that adults 21 and older are allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana outside their home and it will “no longer be lawful for police to seize small quantities of marijuana for forfeiture, as has been past practice.”
Elikann cautioned that transporting marijuana across state lines is “clearly in violation of federal law.” The state law permits people to carry up to one ounce outside their home and grow up to six plants per-person. A regulatory regime for retail sale of the drug is not yet established, and unregulated sales remain illegal.