Voters to consider ban on public marijuana use

In the last six months or so, Southborough police have issued 15 marijuana-related citations. Interim Chief Jane Moran told selectmen last week that all of the tickets went to kids under 18 years of age, all of whom were driving at the time.

It’s one of the reasons Moran would like voters to approve a new bylaw that would ban public consumption of marijuana and impose additional fees. “Do we really want these kids out there driving and smoking pot?”

In last November’s state election, voters approved a measure that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Sixty-seven percent of Southborough voters supported the measure. As part of the new law, cities and towns have the option of imposing bylaws that would ban public consumption. That’s the bylaw Southborough voters will consider at town meeting later this month.

The bylaw would treat public consumption of marijuana in a similar way to public consumption of alcohol, meaning you wouldn’t be allowed to smoke pot in public places like parks, streets, walkways, restaurants, hotels, and the like. The bylaw does not address consumption in private homes.

Instead of the $100 fine now imposed by the state law, the town would increase the penalty to $400, but it still would not be considered a criminal offense.

“It’s similar to a speeding ticket,” Moran said. “Yes, it’s against the law to speed, but it’s not criminal.” So, you’d get a ticket but not a record.

Moran said the increased penalty would cover the administrative costs of imposing the bylaw, but it’s also intended to be punitive. “My hope is it’s a deterrent,” she said.

The language Moran proposed is based on bylaws already adopted by other towns and has been approved by the state Attorney General. While the selectmen were generally in favor of the bylaw, they felt the wording needed some “fine-tuning” before town meeting.

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