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News Link • Drug War

Marijuana law has had little effect on schools

• Metrowest Daily News

In the first year since voters decided to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, school officials said districts aren't seeing escalating drug problems, though they worry the law may encourage marijuana use among students.

At Framingham High School, Principal Michael Welch said six kids in the past month have been found with marijuana or came to school high in three separate incidents.

Each is facing expulsion proceedings.

Because of the legislative change, some kids don't believe it's a problem, Welch said.

"I think there's a general feeling (of) 'What's the big deal?"' said Welch.

Despite "the change in legislation, we can still expel kids for this," he said.

Last fall, Massachusetts voters approved Question 2, which made possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense punishable by no more than a $100 fine for those 18 and older. Younger offenders would also be required to undergo a drug awareness program and perform some form of community service.

"From our standpoint, (the law is) sending a terrible message to kids," said Welch.

Southborough's Town Meeting recently passed a local bylaw increasing the civil penalty for pot possession to $400, which interim Police Chief Jane Moran said would deter some young people from smoking and driving while high.

Overall, however, there hasn't been a serious problem with pot in schools.

"I thought I'd see more issues. But we haven't," said Milford High School Principal John Brucato.

Brucato said he thinks it's because of the "hard-line" stance the district took with drugs and alcohol years ago, which involves police, school policies and rules set down by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association that penalize athletes for using drugs and alcohol.

He wasn't certain if the law allowed districts to expel students who had less than an ounce of pot, as students have to be charged with a felony to be kicked out of school. Though decriminalized, possession of small amounts of marijuana remains illegal, he noted.

"If drugs are involved, we're going to make sure the police are involved," said Brucato.

Corey Welford, spokesman for Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone, said the office doesn't track the number of citations for having less than an ounce of pot, since the violations aren't considered criminal offenses.

Framingham Police spokesman Lt. Paul Shastany said officers do write citations, but they mostly encounter pot when its being sold by a suspect, he said. Marijuana distribution of any amount remains a crime.

"There's no noticeable increase in non-criminal possession," said Shastany.

John Graceffa, principal of Waltham High School, said the school would suspend students caught with pot, though there haven't been problems since the possession law changed.

"No one's testing it," he said.

Students who turned in drugs may not face punishment, but would meet with health staff to deal with addiction and drug problems, he said.

Edward Fleury, principal of Bellingham High School, said the decriminalization of small amounts of pot means attitudes are changing.

"The general attitude is that it's more acceptable by the kids," said Fleury.

When the law was changed, Bellingham High emphasized its rules on drugs and alcohol: students face a five-day suspension for pot possession, he said.

"Kids have learned that alcohol and drugs aren't acceptable here...they may do them, but it won't be here," said Fleury.


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