Articles Posted in Drug Offenses

Readers of this blog will notice that there has been quite a gap since my last  published post here, on March 17, about Massachusetts drug defendants no longer being subjected to having their Massachusetts drivers’ licenses suspended, for having a prior drug conviction.  The reasons for the gap in posts have been that several posts that had been published since March 17 have recently been taken down due to some technical errors.  My apologies, and so let’s get things back to current.

My post today has to do with a topic that my readers know well:  The utter, abysmal, pathetic and shameful failure that has been what politicians and government types have for over 50 years now called the “War on Drugs.”  Idealized in its infancy and first iterations, it sounded great, didn’t it?  The federal government, handing out billions of dollars to themselves and state & local police agencies, would arrest every single “drug user,” “drug dealer,” and anyone in between – all in the name of a “safer,” “healthier” society.  What did this “war” – which has cost taxpayers hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars (yes, that’s billions with a “b”,) ever produce?  Most prominently, it:

  • Funneled billions & billions of our taxpayer dollars into government and law enforcement payrolls, for DEA, ATF, and state & local police payrolls.

I’ve posted in this blog previously about how Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello introduced his own Department policy of not prosecuting addicts who come in to his police department with illegal drugs and/or drug paraphernalia, seeking medical treatment for their addiction.  I wrote of how sensible, humane, and long-past due this type of rational thinking is, and of how Chief Campanello’s approach should be emulated, not only across Massachusetts, but across the United States.

Well, it seems that this hope, may become a reality.  Through legislation recently filed by Gloucester state Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, persons who appear at any Massachusetts police department, seeking medical treatment for a drug addiction, would not be criminal charged or prosecuted for a Massachusetts drug offense – so long as that person is acting in good faith.  Addicts seeking help with recovery could turn in unwanted heroin and other drugs, without fear of criminal prosecution. Continue reading

Here in Massachusetts, we’ve got a serious problem involving heroin use. A lot of deaths have resulted, and clearly, we need to address this problem. No one, including myself, disputes that.

But you can rely on government to step in and largely botch the potential solutions to a given problem. Entirely unproductive efforts, misguided approaches and hundreds of billions of dollars of wasted taxpayer money have been the combined legacy of this country’s utter and abject failure to address drug use that is harmful. For the past 40+ years, the federal and state governments have dramatically called this effort, the “War on Drugs.” And it has been no more effective than the “War on Poverty.” (Look around you, if you doubt that.)

The most recent, and here in Massachusetts, most local example of this wasted and misdirected energy to address the heroin epidemic in Massachusetts? Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent proposal to limit the amount of painkillers that doctors can prescribe for patients, a product of his “Opioid Working Group,” which he assembled to “tackle” the heroin epidemic in Massachusetts. As part of his grand plan, Gov. Baker would step in between the privacy of doctors and patients, and actually prevent doctors from writing prescriptions for pain medications beyond a very small number of pills (maximum of 72 hour supply,) for seriously injured and ill patients, suffering from severe pain.

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Boston Fox TV25 has reported that a Brewster, Mass., woman has been fired for her job — for testing positive for marijuana use — even though she has a completely legal prescription from her doctor, to treat a serious disease that she has. That disease is Crohn’s Disease, a gastrointestinal ulceration disease which is extremely painful and difficult to live with.

The fired employee, a Cristina Barbuto, is not (apparently) being charged with a crime, and at present this is an employment law case, not a criminal prosecution. But as a Boston Massachusetts drug offense attorney, I can assure you that she may as well be accused of being a criminal. That this employer, Advantage Sales & Marketing LLC, would do this, is beyond embarassing to them: It is shameful that someone who has a legitimate medical ailment, and who has been given a legitimate medical prescription for treating that ailment, should lose her job, effectively branded as a “drug use violator.” While the law that made medical marijuana legal in Massachusetts over two years, overwhelmingly supported by a vast majority of Massachusetts citizens, doesn’t mandate that employers allow employees who have a valid cannabis prescription to take it while at work, the law clearly does not prohibit authorized employees from using at when not at work.

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In my previous post on this subject, last week, I discussed how unjust, wasteful and counterproductive Massachusetts mandatory minimum drug sentences are.

In today’s post I’ll provide some examples: If you bought or sold a little over an ounce of pot from a friend, or anyone, were charged under the relevant Massachusetts statute and found guilty, a judge had no choice but to sentence you to a minimum jail sentence – as though you were the head of a Colombian drug cartel. If you are charged and found guilty of possession of drugs with intent to distribute within 300 feet of a designated school zone, you face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 2 years – even if the transaction had absolutely nothing to do with kids attending the school. As a Boston and Wrentham, Massachusetts drug charges lawyer, I can assure you that all that mandatory minimum sentences have done is swell our already overcrowded prison system. With nonviolent drug offenders – at a cost to you and me of $50,000 per year. These people are not violent criminals, our streets become no safer a a result of their incarceration, violent crime still rages, and less prison space is available for violent criminals.

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Readers of this blog know that I’ve made my opposition to mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, well known. It is a foolhardy, unjust, wasteful, and expensive approach to sound legal policy when it comes to Massachusetts drug crimes. As a Massachusetts drug charges attorney, I know this all too well.

In fact, I’ll call this foolish approach to criminal ‘justice’ just what it is: A knee-jerk, reflexive reaction advanced by get-tough-on-crime advocates, who never took the time to actually think about the results these sentencing laws would bring to Massachusetts drug defendants. In case you haven’t read anything on the subject of mandatory minimum sentencing, I’ll once again make it clear: It’s a pair of handcuffs, made just for a judge. You could also think of it as a mouth gag, made just for a judge. That’s because these law take all discretion and decision-making that a judge is supposed to exercise when it comes to sentencing, away from him or her: If a guilty verdict is returned on the charge, the judge has NO CHOICE but to sentence the defendant to the mandatory minimum sentence that the relevant statute calls for. And when it comes to Massachusetts drug offenses, some of these sentences can be shocking.

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In Part One of this post, I discussed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s fool-headed decision – both politically and scientifically – to be willing to “lead the charge” against an anticipated 2016 Massachusetts ballot initiative to legalize marijuana possession and use.

As a Wrentham Massachusetts drug charges attorney, I can assure you that alcohol – which is fully legal, regulated, and taxed – is at least ten times more addictive and dangerous than cannabis. Yet alcohol remains legal, while cannabis remains illegal. This insane legal and social policy has persisted for decades, and must end soon. Because cannabis remains illegal (especially on the federal level,) cartels and illegal dealers control its distribution. Legalization it will smash cartel control, will allow for orderly regulation of it. As respected national organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project have made clear, current sales in the illegal market aren’t taxed or regulated. Black market dealers don’t care who they sell to or how old the buyer is. Legalization and regulation would put gangs and cartels out of business by bringing everything out of the shadows. Importantly, legalization will allow Massachusetts to tax marijuana sales – producing hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes that can be directed to much more socially useful objectives, such as housing the homeless, for one.

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As I write this post, I’m feeling a combination of optimism and disbelief. Optimism that Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has indicated he may support an approach to legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts. On the other hand, stunned disbelief that other Massachusetts political leaders, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, refuse to support this sane and balanced measure. Yet while figures such as governor Charlie Baker have indicated they don’t approve of pot legalization, none of them have indicated that they will openly, actively lead the charge against such efforts, either.

Enter Boston mayor Marty Walsh, who this past week said he’d be willing to be an open, public spokesperson against legalization efforts in Massachusetts if asked. Those legalization efforts are anticipated to take the form of a binding ballot question in the November 2016 (presidential) election, which would legalize cannabis in Massachusetts. This follows overwhelming voter ballot approval in 2008 to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of pot for personal, recreational use, and corresponding overwhelming voter ballot approval of medical marijuana in 2012. Thanks to a first-ever – and thus botched – state attempt to develop a sane and orderly license application process for medical marijuana dispensaries – we still don’t have licensed clinics and dispensaries operating here yet. Hopefully, that process will soon be rectified.

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I can’t say how pleased and proud I am that finally, sanity peeks through in the miserable failure that is the “War On Drugs.”: In the face of the current Massachusetts heroin crisis, a local Police Chief declares that opiate addicts walking in to his Police Department will not be arrested, but instead taken to a local hospital for addiction treatment. Why? Because heroin users are MEDICAL ADDICTS, not violent criminals – and they belong in a hospital and a medical environment, not in a court room and a prison environment. As a Massachusetts drug charges attorney, I can guarantee you that.

Imagine that: Medical treatment for heroin addiction, not punishment. Shocking, isn’t it? … And how sad that this idea isn’t universal policy at police departments across Massachusetts.

Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello announced to the media on May 4 that opiate and heroin addicts who come to the Gloucester Police Department will not face Massachusetts drug charges – even if they are in possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia such as syringes at the time they walk into the police station. Instead, they’ll get the help the so desperately need: What Police Chief Campanello suitably describes as an “angel” to walk them down the road toward detox recovery, and help them get the medical and hospital treatment they need. The medical treatment will partially come from Lahey Health Behavioral Services, which was recently awarded a $4.8 million grant to assist repeat patients in Lahey’s hospital emergency departments. Many of these “repeaters” to Massachusetts hospital emergency departments can return to an ED up to a dozen times a year, and present with addiction or mental illness issues. Lahey Health Centers will now provide these patients with the resources they need to get their lives back together, from detox services to food to transportation and housing.

I’ve written in this blog repeatedly in the past about how pathetic, foolish, and downright sad the federal government has been in its approach not only to drugs and drug policy in general, but marijuana in particular. Credible study after credible study has demonstrated that marijuana use is not only “not more harmful” than alcohol, these same studies have proven it is even less harmful than alcohol, and not chemically addictive. In contrast, everyone who is either awake or alive knows that alcohol is massively addictive, for many people. If you care to know just how addictive it is, look around you: Chances are, at least 2-3 out of the ten people you know, has some kind of a problem with alcohol. Need further evidence? Try checking out a local meeting of AA. I think you’ll be surprised.

It was more than 60 years ago that the federal government first wasted our tax money, and embarrassed itself enormously, with its financing and production of the long-since parodied film, “Reefer Madness.” For the past seven decades – over 70 years – this wildly laughable film has been the butt of more comedy shows, than most people could count. In the past one decade alone, 22 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws either decriminalizing or outright legalizing recreational use of pot. Has the world ended in those states? Have the streets of those states been filled alternately with doped-out zombies and crime-ravaged “drug lords”? Has civilized society “gone to pot,” filled with stoned losers and Cheech & Chong clones?

Laughably and clearly, the answer is a loud “No.” Yet here in Massachusetts, where voters four years ago decriminalized personal possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and two years ago overwhelmingly voted to allow a system of legal medical marijuana dispensaries, the federal government is now working to derail the twice-enacted will of the public. How?