Almost a year later, Carl Seppala, a select board member, volunteered to put together such a letter which was sent to Boston yesterday. On Jan. 22, the board decided to assemble a draft of the letter, saying that it “agrees that it is time to acknowledge that the doctrine supporting the current drug war has failed and to begin the serious consideration of alternatives.”
The letter stated that “the misplaced focus of the drug war is eroding the civil rights associated with the Fourth Amendment.”
After a previously failed attempt by the Citizens for a Sensible Marijuana Policy to bring this issue to the attention of the select board in 1999, the board reached a unanimous decision in support of the letter during a meeting late last month. Aaron Wilson, of the Citizens group, expressed his happiness at the news of a unanimous decision.
“In 1999, there was a possibility that only two members of the Select Board would agree with the draft,” said Wilson. “I was very pleased with the letter.”
Select board member Anne Awad emphasized the fact that the letter was a modest statement.
“It does not advocate youth access to marijuana,” Awad said. “It seeks to deprioritize laws that regulate marijuana.”
The letter seeks to address the issue of marijuana use as a health issue to be managed through education and treatment. It does not discuss its enforcement.
Some select board members voiced concern over the negative effects of a future decriminalization of marijuana.
“In states where medical access [to marijuana] is allowed, the federal government has withdrawn money from the criminal justice system,” Awad said.
According to Seppala, the drug war policy, “makes it possible to search someone’s property for drugs on an anonymous tip.”
The consequences of the possession of marijuana are also extraordinary, according to Seppala.
“In the state of California, a person can lose their property when marijuana is found whether or not it is intentionally cultivated, whereas the illegal possession of arms only leads to arms confiscation,” said Seppala.
Opinions on the effectiveness of the letter in urging state legislators to support the decriminalization of marijuana vary. Dolly Jolly, a select board member, said that she did not know how effective the letter would be.
But other members believe that the letter has the potential to effect change. “Amherst could make a difference and there is a sympathetic senator and representative in Massachusetts,” Awad said. Both State Representative Ellen Story and State Representative Benjamin Swan are involved in bills regarding marijuana use for medical purposes.
U.S. Representative John Olver said that the drug war has been controversial and unsuccessful. “We have put a lot of effort into intercepting drugs and it will not work until we get at demand,” said Olver.
Olver also commented that the common concern is that marijuana leads to harder drugs. “I do not believe this is true,” Olver added.
Olver noted that he has never heard the issue of the decriminalization of marijuana brought up during his time in the legislature.
The letter has had various repercussions in the state of Massachusetts. The town of Framingham approved a public policy advisory question calling for a law that would make the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana punishable by a fine of $100 or more. Also, the town of Barnstable approved a public policy advisory question regarding the use of medical marijuana.
Since then, elected officials from these districts have filed bills during this legislative period regarding the decriminalization of marijuana.
In the near future, members of the select board along with members of the Citizens for a Sensible Marijuana Policy hope to meet with the state’s elected officials to further discuss this issue.