The state decriminalized smoking or possessing small quantities of marijuana and reduced penalties to a $100 fine three years ago, causing problems for police public use of the drug increases, City Councilor Eric Poulin says.
In response, the Law Department issued a legal opinion Thursday and proposed a new ordinance that would levy a $300 fine for public users of marijuana or THC on the first offense.
Tetrahydrocannabinol is a major active ingredient in marijuana.
The proposal says anyone using the drug in streets, parks, stairs, schools or “any area owned or under control of the city” is subject to the fine.
The amount of marijuana needs to be one ounce or less under the state law.
The $300 fine — the top fine for a city ordinance — would be on top of the $100 fine allowed under state law, for a total of $400.
“Whatever activities people do in their own home, whether legal or illegal, is not a huge concern of mine,” Poulin said. “But bringing this activity out into the open in such a flagrant way creates perception of rampant lawlessness.”
Poulin said he sees “inconsistency” with public drinking being an arrestable offense, while a $100 fine is the sole penalty for possessing marijuana.
He said Lt. Paul Gauvin and Officer Jay Resendes brought the problem to his attention, and he’s since spoken with Police Chief Daniel Racine, neighborhood group leaders and the BOLD Coalition about ways to address it.
Racine offered the following statement:
“The Fall River Police Department supports this proposed ordinance, as it will allow for another tool in the police officer’s toolbox. Smoking marijuana in public is a quality-of-life issue, just like drinking in public.
“We do receive complaints from parents relative to marijuana smoking in public near their children. Obviously this certainly affects their quality of life. If passed, the ordinance will be used judiciously,” Racine said.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Elizabeth Sousa, the former Elizabeth Pereira, drafted the ordinance and a legal opinion at Poulin’s request on Thursday.
She noted an additional set of teeth in the ordinance that the state law lacks.
It says enforcement can be applied by any lawful means, including criminal indictment or complaint if a fine is not paid.
That would allow city police to cite any scofflaw who has not paid the fine to force them to pay it, stipulated for those situations by state law (MGL Ch. 40, sections 20 and 21).
“Under the state law, that does not exist,” Sousa said. “The state law really doesn’t speak to any penalties if you don’t pay on time.”