Gloucester police are working to prevent the city from gaining a reputation as a welcoming haven for marijuana smokers.
Since voters decriminalized the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana effective at the beginning of the year, Cape Ann police say they have written only one civil fine for carrying the drug.
But fearing a permissive attitude toward marijuana use may have gone too far, local communities are following others around the state and writing their own local pot penalties.
Gloucester is following suit.
On Monday night, City Council's Ordinance and Administration Committee unanimously recommended a new ordinance proposed by the Police Department that would add an additional $100 fine for "public consumption" of marijuana to the $100 civil penalties outlined in the state law passed by voters for possession in November. Second offenses would draw a $200 fine and subsequent offenses would cost $300.
The Gloucester ordinance is moderately softer than the $300 fine included in a proposed Manchester ordinance going to this year's annual Town Meeting.
Gloucester police Lt. Joseph Aiello said yesterday that the ordinance's intent was to increase the deterrent to smoking pot in public places and to set up a framework channeling the fine money back to the city.
"The desire is to make people understand that we don't want them smoking," Aiello said. "When the law was first passed, I don't think the drafters thought about the mechanics. Once it is decriminalized, what do we do?"
The language appearing before voters last fall changed possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana from a criminal offense with a possible $500 fine and up to six months in jail, to a civil offense with a $100 fine. But the ballot question did not specify who would collect those civil fines or where they would be deposited.
Since the new rules took effect Jan. 2, local authorities in many communities have run into confusion implementing the civil penalties
Aiello said since January, one Ipswich resident had been assessed a civil penalty in Gloucester by a state trooper, who turned the ticket over to Gloucester police without any instructions as to where the money was supposed to go or how it should be collected.
Luckily, the man accused of having the pot had been cooperative, Aiello said, and came down to City Hall to pay his fine, which was set aside until an account can be set up to take it.
Only one Gloucester officer has written a ticket for possession, Aiello said, far less than usual for three months, owing in large part to confusion about how to do it.
Gloucester and Manchester's proposed marijuana ordinances come after communities including Salem, Lynn, Methuen, Springfield, Duxbury, Milford and Medway have already approved marijuana ordinances and dozens of other towns have new rules facing voters.
Manchester's ordinance, which includes a clause requiring anyone smoking pot to provide personal identification, was drafted by law firm Kopelman and Paige, which represents more than one-third of the municipalities in Massachusetts and has distributed copies of its ordinance to client communities.
Lawyers from Kopelman and Paige did not return calls for comment on its ordinance.
Gloucester's ordinance was based on a sample law written by the state attorney general's office.
With so many cities and towns adopting tougher marijuana fines, Aiello said if Gloucester does not approve an ordinance, it risks being perceived as a safe zone for pot smoking.
"We don't want people to look at a map and say: we cannot do it here, but we can do it in Gloucester without an increased fine," Aiello said.
In last November's election, Gloucester voters favored the decriminalization measure by a more than 2 to 1 ratio.
For many who supported that vote, the push to pass local anti-marijuana laws has been seen as a retaliatory attempt by police chiefs to circumvent the will of the voters
In Gloucester, the ordinance needs the approval of City Council to become law and at least some councilors have expressed resistance.
Initial proposals for the ordinance considered measures that would have made marijuana consumption an arrestable offense or included stiffer fines such as those in the proposed Manchester law.
Council President Bruce Tobey yesterday said he thought the proposed ordinance was a waste of time and resources.
"The public has said that enough is enough and thereby said the police have better things to do than writing multiple tickets for someone smoking a joint," Tobey said.
Patrick Anderson may be contacted at email@example.com.