HAVERHILL — As the city moves toward becoming home to a medical marijuana dispensary, police are pushing for a local law that would criminalize public consumption of the drug and increase the fine to $300.
An existing state law allows police to issue a $100 civil citation for illegal possession of the drug in public, but Haverhill lacks a bylaw that would allow police to enforce the penalty, officials said.
Without the bylaw, police can write the ticket for the civil fine, but if a person fails to pay, police cannot bring the matter to criminal court to force payment.
About 80 Massachusetts communities have created local criminal laws banning public consumption of marijuana. They created those laws after Massachusetts voters passed a law in 2008 decriminalizing possession of less than an ounce of the drug.
The Haverhill proposal, which was submitted June 26 to the council's Administration and Finance Committee on behalf of police Chief Alan DeNaro, appears to have sparked new tensions between Mayor James Fiorentini and the chief.
Fiorentini said he's undecided on the measure. He ordered DeNaro not to advocate for the bylaw and not to discuss it with the media or city councilors.
"I have been advised by the mayor that all correspondence will come directly from him on all matters. I have been advised that we speak with one voice," the chief said in response to an email from a reporter seeking information about the chief's marijuana proposal.
After The Eagle-Tribune complained to the mayor about the gag order, the chief said Fiorentini amended the order. DeNaro said he is now permitted to speak to the media about some law enforcement matters, but not his marijuana proposal.
David Van Dam, the mayor's aide, said the mayor and police chief are "on the same page" regarding the marijuana proposal.