How Have the Drug Laws Evolved Over the Years in Massachusetts?
The drug laws have gotten a little less stringent during my career. Near the beginning of my career, they were tougher, particularly regarding distribution of drugs in school zones. This meant that there was an added severe penalty for certain drug dealing crimes committed within 1000 feet of a school regardless of the time of day or night and regardless of whether the school was open. Since then, they have loosened up some of the restrictions. For instance, in the past, if you kept the drugs you were dealing in your home and your home was within 1000 feet of a public school, it would be a school zone violation with an additional penalty regardless of whether you were selling from your home, regardless of the time of the day or night and regardless of whether people were even at the school. In the last few years the laws have changed so that it will not be the same crime, unless it is committed between 5 a.m. and midnight. Further, the required distance from the school for a school zone violation was reduced from 1000 feet from the school to 300 feet.
Massachusetts has also made several changes with regard to how it handles simple possession of small amounts of marijuana. A few years ago, Massachusetts introduced a medical marijuana law that allows people to possess and cultivate various amounts of marijuana for medical use.
More recently, Massachusetts has legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by persons age 21 or older. Now it is legal for any person to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use anywhere in the Commonwealth. The person may lawfully possess up to ten ounces of marijuana in their primary residence. Each person may also cultivate up to six marijuana plants within their residence. Although there is restriction that there be no more than twelve plants in the entire household.
For those people who are between the ages of 18 and 21, possession of 2 ounces or less is civil fine of $100 (similar to a traffic ticket). For those who are under 18, they would have to pay the same $100 fine and also participate in an approved drug awareness program within one year.
Further, unlike prior laws, the legislature has determined that for possession under the new laws, there is no civil disqualification. You may not be disqualified from receiving or participating in things such as:
- Financial Aid
- Public Housing
- Public Financial Assistance (including unemployment benefits)
- Driver’s License
- Serving as a Foster Parent or Adoptive Parent
What Are the Most Common Drug Offenses that You Handle?
We handle a lot of cases of simple possession of drugs. These are people who are not usually drug dealers but rather are drug users. Common cases are made up of people who possess more than two ounces of marijuana or any amount of cocaine, heroin, oxycontin, oxycodone, Fentanyl and other illegal prescription drugs.
We also handle a lot of cases involving people who are, in fact, dealing or charged with some sort of a crime that relates to drug dealing, such as possession of a drug with the intent to distribute and drug distribution.
We also have handled a number of trafficking cases over the years. Trafficking involves possession of a certain amount/weight of particular drugs. These amounts are frequently very large amounts of a particular drug. Trafficking is one of the more serious drug offenses and typically carries a stiff mandatory sentence.
How Is a Drug Charge Determined to be Either a Misdemeanor or a Felony in Massachusetts?
In Massachusetts felonies and misdemeanors are defined by whether or not there is any possibility of a sentence that involves being sent to state prison. In Massachusetts, most possessory crimes – meaning simple possession of drugs like marijuana, cocaine or heroin – are misdemeanors. Most distribution crimes, which involve drug dealers or someone who is trafficking in drugs, would be felonies. Of course, there are exceptions to this. The distribution or dealing of a Class D drug, such as marijuana, in smaller amounts is not considered a felony. Class E, which includes most prescription drugs other than opiates, is not considered a felony even if you’re dealing in small amounts.
What Is an Unlawful Controlled Substance?
This is specifically defined in Massachusetts by law. Chapter 94C, section 31 of the Massachusetts General Laws defines the different drugs which are considered controlled substances. This law gets very specific based upon the chemical compounds within the drugs. There is a whole schedule of different types of chemicals that constitute a certain class. The classes in Massachusetts are A through E. There are different types of drugs within each class. The most common Class A drugs would be heroin and other opiates.
The most common Class B drugs would be cocaine, methamphetamines, percocet, oxycontin and oxycodone. Class C drugs are what they refer to as central nervous system depressants, such as barbiturates or downers. Most fall within that category. Class D is most commonly marijuana, and Class E covers a variety of other prescription drugs, including steroids.