In 2008, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot initiative amending the state’s laws to decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. If authorities catch a person with an ounce of marijuana or less in Massachusetts, he or she receives a citation for $100 rather than a potential jail sentence. In a decision handed down in February 2012, the Massachusetts Supreme Court clarified the extent to which the law decriminalized actions involving marijuana, holding that possession with intent to distribute is still a crime, even if the amount is less than an ounce.
Appealing a 2010 Conviction
The events leading to the case stem from a phone call a Great Barrington woman made to police in 2010, reporting that her daughter and a man were smoking marijuana in her yard. Police arrested the man and found three two-ounce baggies of marijuana, $100 in cash and a cell phone with a text message from a person looking to purchase marijuana.
The man was convicted of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and appealed.
The Court’s Reasoning
The court upheld the man’s conviction, noting that the question on the ballot that voters approved in 2008 specifically amended only the portion of the law dealing with possession of marijuana. The court noted that possession with intent to distribute is a different act than mere possession, and the ballot question did not alter laws governing possession with intent to distribute. Thus, even if a person is in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, it is still a crime to intend to sell it.
The defendant’s lawyer admitted to the court that that the law was not intended to protect those looking to sell less than an ounce of marijuana. However, he claimed that the law did shield those merely sharing marijuana cigarettes from criminal charges. The court’s opinion stated that it would not address that issue in this case and left open the question whether people sharing a marijuana cigarette were safe from criminal charges.
Consult an Attorney
The court’s decision in this case shows that while Massachusetts may have decriminalized marijuana possession, authorities still take other drug charges very seriously and will not hesitate to prosecute such cases to the fullest extent possible. If you are facing drug charges, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your rights.