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Supreme Judicial Court Rules Social Sharing of Marijauana not a Crime

733342_rolled_cigarette.jpgIn 2008, Massachusetts decriminalized the possession of marijuana in amount of one ounce or less. Since the decision, many question have remained about how this ruling affects other aspects of Massachusetts laws concerning marijuana. A recent article details a few cases that have recently come before the Supreme Court of Massachusetts for clarification.

Over time, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has handed down rulings that have helped to clarify those questions. I have written extensively about those changes as they have occurred. The latest rulings about marijuana from the SJC help clarify the laws regarding social sharing of marijuana. Additionally, the SJC has ruled that some statements given to police and some evidence seized in searches are not admissible in court against the defendants because these defendants came to the attention of the police due to civil infractions, rather than criminal violations. However, the SJC also stated once again that cultivating marijuana is still illegal.

Hempfest, an annual event in the Boston Common, involves many people publicly smoking marijuana. Many of these people share their marijuana with each other. Kityan Jackson, a Hempfest attendee, was seen by police sharing a joint with friends. Officers then searched his backpack without a warrant. Upon searching his backpack, officers found small amounts of marijuana packaged in small, individual bags in a quantity that totaled less than an ounce.

Jackson was charged and prosecuted for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. However, in one of the recent rulings, the SJC sided with Jackson and set aside his conviction. The reason that he cannot be convicted of this offense is that police first approached Jackson due to a civil infraction–sharing a joint with friends. Sharing a joint is not a criminal offense in Massachusetts. In the unanimous ruling, the SJC proclaimed that social sharing of marijuana is akin to simple possession and does not constitute drug distribution. There is no buyer or seller in social sharing of marijuana as there is in drug distribution. Additionally, and crucial to Jackson’s case, observing the social sharing of marijuana does not give police justification to conduct a warrantless search.

In two more cases, and using the same reasoning as in Jackson’s case, the SJC held that prosecutors cannot introduce evidence against defendants that were gathered as a result of police approaching people who have engaged in civil violations. One case involved a defendant who was stopped for a broken headlight and another involved a man who was approached due to a curfew violation. Both cases involved police conducting warrantless searches after approaching the individuals’ vehicles and finding small quantities of drugs and weapons. All of the evidence that was found subsequent to police approaching the individuals for civil infractions was found to be inadmissible.
However, cultivation of marijuana is still illegal in Massachusetts, as the SJC made clear in the case of Kenneth J. Palmer Jr. Police found marijuana growing in Palmer’s closet in 2010. The marijuana that police found in the closet was of less than one ounce. However, officers also found that he had outfitted his closet with lights, a thermometer, and empty plastic bags.

If you or a loved one is facing charges relating to marijuana possession, cultivation, possession with intent to distribute, or any other marijuana charge, contact me today.

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