Town Approves Marijuana Fine Increase
Those caught using marijuana to be issued $300 fine.
Article 17 was passed at Town Meeting Wednesday night, approving a fine of $300 to anyone found using marijuana in public.
In 2009, voters approved a statewide measure decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. As a result, anyone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana owed a $100 civil fine instead of ending up with an arrest record and possibly facing jail time.
“We found that the issues of marijuana have not gone away,” explained Norton Police Chief Brian Clark. “We see a lot more violence because of it.”
Lee Tarantino, vice chairman of the finance committee, said it's not worth the town's money to take someone to court for a $100 fine. “For $300 it’s worth the town’s time to take someone to court to collect the $300. If you collect the $300 now you’ve made an impression on that person, at least for the Town of Norton," he said.
Robert Kimball of the Board of Selectmen explained that to the cost to go to small claims court is $25. If the person does not show up, there is no recourse.
“It’s not about making money,” Kimball said. “It’s about us being able to get the person’s proper identification and some of the cost it’s going to cost us to take legal action against that person.”
Paul Helmreich of the Finance Committee added that the cost to the town was more than the $25 it costs to go to small claims court. The salary of the officer going must also be paid.
Some residents expressed concern over this article.
“It starts with marijuana. I see this moving to another level,” said resident Ralph Stefanelli, explaining that while seatbelt laws help save lives, in New Jersey you are fined when cameras at toll booths catch you not wearing one. “I see this moving and taking away more freedom.”
In the end, article 17 passed by majority vote.
“We aren’t going to take someone to court for $100. It’s just not going to happen,” Clark said. “This isn’t a money maker. It’s a tool. It’s a tool that we can use to kind of make the statement as a town that we aren’t going to tolerate this in our town in our public places.”
Voters also approved by majority vote article 18, a new by-law for civil fingerprinting for certain license applicants going door-to-door in the town.
“The finance committee recommends this as being fundamentally necessary in this day and age,” Heimrich said. “We’ve heard about all the scams being perpetrated on senior citizens and other people in the community.”