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Soros backs softer pot penalties in Mass.

Associated Press | 9/3/2008, 4:57 a.m.

Leone said marijuana possession is already treated less stringently in the courts than other drugs.

The question has been criticized by others in law enforcement and drug education groups like DARE-Massachusetts. But according to the office of Secretary of State William F. Galvin, opponents haven’t created a group to raise money to fight the question.

A whopping 72 percent of Massachusetts’ voters favored the ballot question and 22 percent opposed it, according to a WHDH-TV/Suffolk University poll of 400 registered conducted from July 31-Aug. 3. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Whitney Taylor of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy said the question would help unclog the courts, save the state millions and spare thousands of residents the burden of a criminal record.

The question requires parental notification and the completion of a drug awareness program for anyone under 18 caught with an ounce or less of the drug. It bars the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from being used to deny financial aid, public housing or other public assistance, drivers’ licenses or the ability to be a foster or adoptive parent.

“They can move on and get a student loan and get their first apartment and move on with their lives,” Taylor said. “People recognize that there are a lot better things we could be doing with our police resources.”

Currently, possession of small amounts of marijuana in the state is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine. Taylor said offenders commonly get probation, but even in those cases the criminal convictions stay on their records.

The only other statewide vote this year on marijuana laws will be in Michigan, where voters are weighing an initiative to allow patients to grow and use small amounts of marijuana for relief from pain associated with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

If Massachusetts voters approve the ballot question, according to NORML, the state would join a dozen others which have to some extent decriminalized first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon.

(Associated Press)