Drug Laws in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, drug offenses were the third most common offense in the criminally sentenced population on January 1, 2017, making up 14 percent of all criminally sentenced inmates, per the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) Office of Grants and Research. In 2015, there were 9,761 drug abuse violations in Massachusetts, and on a single-day snapshot on January 1, 2017, there were close to 900 inmates serving a mandatory drug sentence.

Drug laws in Massachusetts are particularly harsh concerning drug trafficking and sale to minors or near a school zone, but less harsh for the federally illegal drug marijuana. Heroin possession laws are extremely strict and include a statute that if a person is even knowingly in a location where heroin is being kept, they can incur criminal charges of up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000, even if that person didn’t ever have control over the drug. Individuals who are charged with first-time drug-related offenses that are not considered serious crimes, such as violent crimes, may be able to go through one of Massachusetts’s 27 adult or three juvenile drug courts for diversion into a treatment program instead of facing jail time. This is typically a probationary period requiring frequent check-ins with a judge and case manager and completion of a court-ordered addiction treatment program.

Some cities and counties in Massachusetts have drug diversion programs as well, such as the one run through Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan, which allows individuals to receive addiction treatment services in collaboration with the local Lowell House as an Adult Diversions Alternative Program (ADAP). ADAPs aid people in getting addiction treatment help pre-arraignment instead of after being charged with a crime. Individuals in Massachusetts can also be civilly committed to a department of corrections (DOC) facility under Section 35 if someone petitions the court they are present a serious danger to themselves or others and they struggle with drug abuse or addiction. There are typically three main types of drug penalties in Massachusetts: those related to the possession of illegal drugs, those related to the sale of illicit substances, and those related to drug trafficking.

Massachusetts Drug Possession, Sale, and Trafficking Laws

Depending on the type of substance involved, Massachusetts laws can vary. Listed below are various drugs of abuse and their specific penalties: Class A Substances: heroin, morphine, ketamine, GHB

  • Possession: up to 2 years in jail and/or a $2,000 fine
    • Subsequent possession: 2.5-5 years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine
    • More than 14 grams is considered trafficking.
  • Sale: 2-10 years and/or a fine of $1,000-$10,000
    • Subsequent possession: 5-15 years in jail and/or a fine of $2,500-$25,000
    • Third possession: at least 40 years
    • Sale to minors and on or near school zones or grounds equals harsher penalties.
  • Trafficking
    • 14-28 grams: 5-20 years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000-$50,000
    • 28-100 grams: 7-20 years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000-$50,000
    • 100-200 grams: 10-20 years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000-$100,000
    • Over 200 grams: 15-20 years in prison
    • 10 grams or more of fentanyl: up to 20 years in prison

Class B Substances: cocaine, crack cocaine, LSD, oxycodone, hydrochloride, amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy

  • Possession: 1 year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000
    • Subsequent possession: 2 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000
    • Over 14 grams is considered trafficking.
  • Sale: 2-10 years in jail and/or a fine of $1,000-$10,000
    • Subsequent possession: 5-15 years in jail and/or a fine of $2,500-$25,000
  • Trafficking
    • 14-28 grams: 3-15 years in prison and/or a fine of $2,500-$25,000
    • 28-100 grams: 5- 20 years in prison and/or a fine of $5,000-$50,000
    • 100-200 grams: 10-20 years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000-$100,000
    • Over 200 grams: 15-20 years in prison and/or a fine of $50,000-$500,000

Class C Controlled Substances: benzodiazepines, hallucinogens

  • Possession: 1 year in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine
  • Subsequent possession: up to 2 years in jail and a fine of up to $2,000

Class D Controlled Substances: more than 1 ounce of marijuana, inhalants, barbiturates

  • Possession: up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of $500 and a mandatory 1-year lost license
  • First offense could be eligible for probation and sealed records upon completion of a court-mandated program.

Class E Controlled Substances: limited amounts of narcotics

  • Possession: up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of $500 and a mandatory 1-year lost license
  • First offense could be eligible for probation and sealed records upon completion of a court-mandated program.

Marijuana Laws and Decriminalization

Marijuana began being decriminalized on the state level in 2008 when penalties for possession of up to one ounce ceased being a criminal charge and instead resulted in civil penalties like fines, Boston.com publishes. In 2012, legislation took things one step further with the Medical Use of Marijuana Program, which legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Individuals could now apply for a special license or permit to obtain marijuana for medical use from one of 22 registered marijuana dispensaries (RMDs), Mass.gov reports. In 2016, marijuana was legalized for recreational use by adults aged 21 and older in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe publishes. Adults of legal age can now possess up to one ounce of marijuana at a time in public, five grams of which can be in the form of marijuana concentrate, and up to 10 ounces in their private residences. Residents can also gift up to one ounce of the drug to another resident who is of legal age in Massachusetts; however, it is still illegal to buy and sell marijuana. Residents can grow marijuana in their homes in a secure or locked location that is not visible to the public eye. Residents of Massachusetts can grow up to six plants per person, not to exceed 12 plants in a household. Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal. Drugged driving laws in Massachusetts can result in a driving under the influence or operating a motor vehicle under the influence of an intoxicating substance (DUI or OUI) charge, which can incur up to 30 months of house arrest, a one-year driver’s license suspension, and a fine of between $500 and $5,000. First offenses may be knocked down to probation with court-mandated drug abuse counseling and a license suspension of 45-90 days. A second offense means a mandatory minimum 30-day incarceration (up to 30 months possible), a two-year suspended license, and a fine of $600-$10,000. Probation may also be offered for a second offense if a person agrees to a two-week court-mandated residential drug addiction program and also a two-year suspension of their driver’s license. Third and subsequent offenses are considered felonies and can result in a 150-day mandatory minimum incarceration (not to exceed five years in a state prison for the third offense), a fine of $1,000-$15,000, and a license suspension of eight years. It is still currently illegal to consume marijuana in public or to drive with an open container of a marijuana-containing substance in the car. Open containers of marijuana must be locked in the trunk or glove box prior to driving. Governor Baker delayed the opening of retail marijuana dispensaries by six months; however, they are expected to open by July 1, 2018. The Cannabis Control Commission helps to ensure that marijuana laws are being carried out fairly and in accordance with voters’ wishes. Marijuana “social clubs” where marijuana can be consumed and even potentially bought and sold on the premises are being considered for the future, but currently in Massachusetts, the drug must be consumed in the privacy of a legal adult’s residence.

Opioid addiction and overdose are public health concerns in the Commonwealth, and as such, there have been several forms of legislation addressing prevention, treatment, and recovery. The Good Samaritan law serves to protect residents from criminal charges involving drug possession if they are to report or attempt to revive someone suffering from an overdose. They are also protected from civil actions or lawsuits under this law. Individuals are also able to dispense the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan (naloxone) with protection from civil liability under this law. Massachusetts also has a standing order that lets residents obtain and possess the opioid antagonist from local pharmacies without a prescription. In 2016, An Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment, and Education was one of the first laws in the United States mandating a seven-day limit on first-time opioid prescriptions. This legislative effort also includes mandated drug disposal sites, improved educational programs, and enhanced preventative measures. Schools must conduct verbal substance abuse screenings in at least two grades. High school athletes are to receive education on prescription drug misuse and its potential hazards. Prescribers are also required to report the dispensation of controlled substances to the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) within 24 hours, and healthcare providers are required to check with the PMP before dispensing Schedule II or III narcotics. Prescribers must also engage in continuing education regarding controlled prescription substances, their abuse, and effective pain management. Drug manufacturers in Massachusetts must participate in some form of a drug stewardship program or another program approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). Patients must be presented with educational tools and non-opioid directives as well as an option to only partially fill an opioid prescription. After leaving an addiction treatment program, individuals are to be presented with information on FDA-approved medication management options that can be helpful during recovery.

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