BOSTON — Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana would no longer be considered a criminal offense under a bill that won the backing of a legislative committee on yesterday.
The bill, which was approved by the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee on 6-1 vote, would make possession of a small amount of a marijuana a civil offense punishable by a $250 fine. Those 18 years old or younger would also have their parents notified.
Possession of that amount of marijuana is now considered a criminal office punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine for the first offense.
Sen. Steven Tolman, D-Brighton, co-chairman of the committee, said the goal was to make sure that someone found with a small amount of marijuana doesn't have a criminal record that could make it difficult for them to get into college, obtain student loans and make it harder to find a job.
Critics of the bill say it could encourage the use of marijuana by easing some of the social stigma.
The House chairwoman of the committee, Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, said the focus should be on prevention, not jail time.
"A priority of our committee is to develop programs of prevention, education and treatment and shift away from an involvement with the criminal justice system," Balser said.
The committee's approval is just the first step in a long process. The bill must still be approved by the House and Senate and sent to Gov. Mitt Romney's desk. If Romney were to veto the bill, it would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override the veto.
Several states have already approved similar legislation.