Although drug use is common across the US, laws might classify drugs differently and carry harsher or more lenient penalties depending on the state. Massachusetts law includes stricter penalties for heroin possession and minor penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The possession of drugs is illegal in Massachusetts unless they are obtained by prescription. The Controlled Substances Act (Mass. General Laws chapter 94C) classifies drugs according to their perceived potential for abuse, risk to public health, and scientific or medical utility.
For example, strong opiates like heroin and some prescription painkillers are listed as Class A drugs, meaning they have the most potential for harm and abuse. This category also includes GHB and Ketamine. Class B covers weaker opiates, cocaine, and methamphetamine, among other drugs.
Classes C, D, and E include prescription drugs like valium, as well as illicit substances like marijuana and psilocybin, the active chemical in hallucinogenic mushrooms. Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana has been decriminalized in Massachusetts – it carries only a $100 fine and forfeiture of the drug.
A first offense for simple possession of any drug is technically a misdemeanor in Massachusetts, but can still lead to serious consequences. Possession of any controlled substance in Classes A through D, except heroin and marijuana, carries a jail term of up to one year and can result in a 1-year driver’s license suspension. Subsequent violations can land offenders in jail for up to two years.
The commonwealth has enacted strict laws controlling heroin. A first-time violation for possession of the drug can land someone in jail for two years and cost the defendant $2,000. Subsequent offenses for heroin possession carry from 2 ½ to 5 years in prison.
Strict control of heroin and other powerful opiates is not without reason. Abuse of prescription drugs has been an increasing and significant problem in Massachusetts, according to State Police. Opiate overdose leads to more accidental deaths in Massachusetts than any other cause.
In a move to combat the illegal use of painkillers, Massachusetts public health officials recently gave local and state police, as well as federal authorities, greater access to a database that monitors painkiller prescriptions. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program tracks prescriptions of controlled substances by requiring doctors and pharmacists to report each prescription they dispense.
Greater access to this system could enable law enforcement to spot missing prescriptions or people who are being overprescribed. This information could help police suppress the supply of these drugs to the black market, but some people are concerned that the expansion of access could invade the privacy of people who need these drugs and take them lawfully.
If someone has a relatively large quantity of drugs, however, drug possession can carry much more serious penalties. Under drug trafficking laws, someone who has 14-28 grams of heroin could receive 7-20 years in jail, and possessing 200 or more grams of cocaine or heroin carries 15-20 years imprisonment.
Pretrial Diversion and Sealing Records
If drug possession is the defendant’s first offense, he has no prior convictions in Massachusetts or any other state, and he is between 17 and 21-years-old, a court may recommend a pretrial diversion program that includes educational services and community involvement. If the offender enters the program, he would avoid criminal penalties.
Charges for first-time drug possession can also be sealed. If the offender has no previous convictions, and his case has been “continued without a finding” or he was convicted and placed on probation, the individual may ask the court to seal his record when the probationary period ends.