SAUGUS — Town Meeting passed a bylaw amendment that creates additional penalties for smoking or consuming marijuana in public, even after the chief of police said the department could not support it.
The original bylaw, which passed in 2003, stated that “no person shall drink any alcoholic beverage” or “possess an open container full or partially full of any alcoholic beverage” in any public places, including parks, playgrounds, conservation areas, recreation areas or on private land without the consent of the owner.
The amendment passed last week added “nor shall they smoke or consume marijuana” to the language. It also prohibits an open container of marijuana — it must be in a sealed container or a locked glove box.
The bylaw states that violators are to be arrested without a warrant as long as probable cause of a drinking violation exists and that any vehicle being used would be towed at the expense of the owner. A $200 fine would also be imposed.
Interim Police Chief Ronald Giorgetti expressed concern with the bylaw, specifically the authority to arrest offenders.
“I think the public made their wishes known through the ballot, making it a non-criminal disposition regarding marijuana,” said Giorgetti.
Marijuana became legal in Massachusetts for people 21 and over in 2016, but the state law does not allow it to be used in public or on federal land, according to Mass.gov. Up to one ounce can be carried in public and 10 ounces can be kept in a resident’s home, but anything over one ounce needs to be locked up. Violators of each of these regulations can be subjected to a $100 fine. Additionally, cities and towns can pass bylaws or ordinances allowing social consumption in certain areas, according to the website.
“We certainly would have no objection to a bylaw prohibiting public consumption of marijuana, but the authorization to subject somebody to arrest, detain them and bring them to the police station — we can’t support as currently written,” said Giorgetti.
Proponent Ronald Witten, a Town Meeting member in Precinct 1, argued that “as the town, we’re allowed to do this.”
“I believe it’s perfectly legal to enhance the penalty under the law,” he said.
Witten, a former police officer, said that a person convicted in court of violating the bylaw would not have a drug charge on his or her record. Instead, the charge would be “violation of a town bylaw or city ordinance.”
The city of Lynn recently approved a pot shop near the Saugus line, which could lead to more problems, he said. He cited the shop’s proximity to the walking trail.
“It’s something that could arise to be a problem,” he said. “The bylaws in this town, when I was working as a police officer, the bylaws were a good tool in our tool belt.”
Town Meeting passed the article 34-6.