Coast Guard to enforce US pot laws on water

By ELIZABETH DINAN | Portsmouth Herald (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 23, 2017

Smoking marijuana on a boat in federally patrolled waters remains illegal, in spite of the recent decriminalization of pot in New Hampshire and its legalization in Maine and Massachusetts, warned U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrew Barresi.

"The Coast Guard still enforces federal law, which has not changed," Barresi said. "Federal law says it's illegal, in any quantities."

And there's no exemption for medical marijuana, said Barresi about federal law, which supersedes state laws.

But if boaters are found with pot by members of New Hampshire or Maine Marine Patrols, they'll enforce state laws, including newly relaxed marijuana laws in both states, which share border rivers.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday signed a bill that reduces the penalty for adults' possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and five grams of hash, from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation, the equivalent of a parking ticket. The law takes effect in September.

Since Jan. 30, adult Maine residents can legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow as many as six flowering pot plants.

But too few people know pot laws on land differ from laws on the water, Barresi said.

"It's important for people to know," he said. "We don't want them to be surprised by it."

Barresi said the Coast Guard's first priority is safety and to that end, "We do boardings all the time." A boarding is when members of the Coast Guard go aboard recreational and commercial boats for inspections to ensure the presence of all required safety equipment, including life jackets and a sound-making device.

He said members of the Coast Guard are federal law enforcement officers and if they find marijuana during a boarding they'll seize and destroy it.

"They might think it's legal and their property," Barresi said, "but it's not."

(c) 2017 Portsmouth Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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