Massachusetts takes a harsh approach when sentencing drug offenders, particularly those who abuse prescription medications. Before deciding on the penalty for drug possession, the courts examine the seriousness of the offense, type of drug, and the criminal history of the defendant. With so much at stake, it’s vital that you contact a drug possession defense lawyer immediately after your arrest.
How Massachusetts Classifies Controlled Substances
Any prescription drug used without consent from a licensed physician is considered a “controlled substance.” A controlled substance includes any substance upon which the manufacturer or distributor has placed a warning prohibiting dispensing without prescription.
There are both state and federal laws dictating the different categories of illegal drugs and controlled substances. Massachusetts drug classifications divide common prescription medications into five categories:
- Class A. Heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs in Class A, which also includes opioids and opium derivatives. Opioid-containing medications are commonly used to treat pain, such as fentanyl, morphine, and ketamine.
- Class B. Class B drugs include some opiates such as Oxycodone, Percocet, and Percodan, as well as various stimulants (amphetamines) and depressants (barbiturates). Cocaine is a Class B drug.
- Class C. These drugs include prescription tranquilizers and narcotics, including diazepam (Valium), Clonazepam, and Hydrocodone (Vicodin).
- Class D. These substances include marijuana and phenobarbital.
- Class E Substances. This class is reserved for prescription drugs containing lower doses of codeine, morphine, or opiates, as well as mood-altering medications like Xanax, Seroquel, Klonopin, and Wellbutrin.
When Can Someone Be Charged With a Prescription Drug Crime?
Even if you are found with a non-prescribed drug on your person or in your home, a prosecuting attorney will still need to prove a number of legal factors to charge you with a crime of possession. Depending on your circumstances, this could include:
- No valid prescription. The prosecution must prove that you were in possession of a controlled substance at the time of your arrest, and that you do not currently have a valid prescription for the drug from a licensed physician.
- Drug awareness. Massachusetts law requires that a person must be aware of both the presence and the illegality of a controlled substance in order to commit a crime. If the drugs were stored in your home or planted on you without your knowledge, you may not have known they were in your possession. It’s the prosecution’s job to prove that you knowingly possessed the controlled substance.
- Control over the drugs. A person must have “direct control” of an illegal drug’s presence and location to be charged with a drug crime. For example, if a relative is keeping prescription drugs in a locked shed on your property, you may not have a key or any way to access the controlled substance.
- The amount of the substance. The charges in these cases vary with both the type and the amount of the drug in a person’s possession. A small amount of prescription medication may lead to a charge of possession, while holding enough of a drug to sell can increase the charges to possession with intent to distribute. If you are found in possession with enough of a drug to distribute on a large scale, you may be charged with drug trafficking.
Potential Penalties for Illegal Possession of Prescription Drugs
Penalties for drug possession in Massachusetts will depend on the specific factors in your case. Generally, a person found with a Class A drug faces higher jail time and fines than someone found with a Class C or D drug. Possession of a controlled substance will typically result in at least some jail time, regardless of the drug schedule.
- Misdemeanors. Only Class D and Class E substances can result in misdemeanor sentences, which can result in up to 6 months in jail, fines up to $500, and license suspension for a minimum of one year.
- Felony. Classes A through C usually result in felony charges, which carry penalties of between 2 to 5 years in jail or state prison, fines between $2,000 and $5,000, and license suspension for 3 to 5 years.
- Drug court. Some offenders may be eligible for drug court instead of a traditional hearing. Drug courts focus on treatment rather than punishment, and involve drug treatment programs, random drug testing, and supervision by a probation officer.
If you or someone you know has been charged with drug possession, you need help from someone with a proven track record of success in these matters. At Nate Amendola Defense, we exclusively handle criminal cases. Our extensive knowledge of drug laws and the specific details of our clients’ cases allow us to develop a personalized, aggressive defense on their behalf. If you have been arrested for drug possession, contact us right away for a free initial case review.