HARVARD -- On Friday afternoon, April 12, Police Chief Edward Denmark received a call from The Bromfield School Principal James O'Shea, who reported he'd found five students -- both boys and girls and all under 17 -- in possession of small amounts of marijuana, each cache less than an ounce.

"He thought we should know ..." Denmark told reporters. O'Shea asked the police chief to visit the school.

Under current state law, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense, although police may issue civil citations, including fines, and will confiscate the drugs.

Distribution, however, is still a criminal offense, in any amount, and the rule of law applies whether the drug is sold or given away.

Handing a marijuana cigarette from one individual to another, for example, is a crime, Chief Denmark said, while possession of less than an ounce of the drug is a "civil infraction," and the same rule applies to possession versus distribution of drugs in any form, such as marijuana-laced brownies or cookies.

Denmark explained that when criminal charges are not at issue, as in this incident, school administrators have authority to handle the matter in house, per school policies. In this case, the male student who had the largest amount of marijuana might be held most responsible and could face expulsion, he said, with suspensions likely for others involved.

Asked how O'Shea found out that certaiin students had drugs in school, Denmark said the intelligence came from other Bromfield students. "Some concerned students" went to teachers with the information, who reported it to the administration, he said.

"The principal found some marijuana in a canvas bag," Denmark said, adding that the principal has the right to conduct a search within the school building on his own, but not in collaboration with police.

While not downplaying the incident, Denmark said that overall, the problem of drugs in school is no worse at Bromfield than at any other American high school, citing results of a recent, widely-publicized youth risk survey.

In this incident, the marijuana the principal rounded up at Bromfield was confiscated by police and would be destroyed, Denmark said.