The Associated Press

Mass. High Court: Sharing A Joint Is Not A Crime

BOSTON — Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Friday that sharing a marijuana cigarette isn’t a crime, but growing even small amounts of the drug is still illegal.

The Supreme Judicial Court released decisions in four cases that involved arrests made after voters in 2008 approved a law decriminalizing the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

In three of the cases, the courts found police searches and arrests violated the bounds of the relatively new law, which went into effect in January 2009. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which wrote an amicus brief in one of the cases, said the rulings brought much needed clarity.

“Everyone, and it seems including the courts, seems to be honing in on what the voters I think made clear in 2008, which is that they don’t want the police to be spending time, energy and resources prosecuting people for crimes that involve small amounts of marijuana,” said ACLU legal director Matthew Segal.

One of the cases involved a man who attended the annual pro-marijuana legalization rally Hempfest on Boston Common in 2010. Officers approached after they saw him passing around a marijuana cigarette with two friends, then searched his backpack after seeing a plastic bag containing marijuana sticking out his pocket. They found 10 small bags of marijuana. The total weight of all the marijuana was less than an ounce.

The state argued the officer’s arrest was justified because he had cause to believe the man was about to illegally distribute the marijuana.

But the court said sharing small amounts of marijuana can’t be considered distribution. And it said voters clearly didn’t pass the law solely to protect marijuana users who smoke alone, adding “particularly in light of the recognition that marijuana is often used in groups.”

The state tried and failed to make a similar argument about distribution in a second case, in which a state trooper searched a car at a Lynn state park in 2011 after finding five people inside smoking marijuana. But the court also said the trooper’s search — which turned up an unregistered handgun — was illegal, because the group had less than an ounce of marijuana between them, and the officer had no right to look for additional contraband, as the state claimed.

The court upheld the police in one case, in which an Adams man was charged in 2010 after officers serving him a warrant found less than an ounce worth of marijuana plants openly growing in his closet.

A lower court judge agreed with the suspect that growing the marijuana was the same as possessing it and was no longer criminal. But the SJC ruled that state law considers cultivating marijuana a separate crime. The 2008 vote didn’t change that, the court ruled, because it altered rules about marijuana possession only.

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  • Al Dorman26

    Sorry the morons prosecuting these “crimes” have to be told this.

  • JMR

    way to spend our tax dollars prosecutors. Why not waste your time doing something useful.

    • Futo Buddy

      i guess all the bankers, white collar criminals and gangbangers are safely behind bars

  • Futo Buddy

    well i guess we know what the next ballot question needs to be

  • devil weed

    lawmakers on prescription drugs, finally think pot is ok to smoke…now wonder legislation is so slow.

  • HumphreyPloughjogger

    Except for punishing the selling or gifting of marijuana (the leaves, flowers and oils derived for the leaves and flowers) to children without parental consent, the growing of Cannabis (the plant) and selling the produce of the plant should be as free as the growing and selling of any other herb. That is, weighed on scales certified accurate by the Sealer of Weights and Measures, subject to the warranty of merchantability in accordance with other existing laws applicable to garden centers, florists, farm-stands, grocery stores . . . .

  • Robert Reed

    Just legalize it already.How much is the prosacuting of this petty crap costing tax payers? Let the cops concentrate on real crime,like investigating themselves

    • Michael Richards

      Really. It’s just ridiculous.

  • jonb

    Maybe these police forces need to have their budgets cut if this is all they have to do

  • Dannyboy

    Volunteer police and fire. If someone is robbing a bank, call up deputies like they used to. And to have someone sitting around WAITING for a fire is a huge waste of resources especially when we all have to have smoke & CO detectors. What a scam, VOLUNTEER police and fire.

  • Dannyboy

    Prison Industrial Complex.

  • Otis Wickwire

    Kudos to the high (how fitting) court. Legalize it and you put all these people and entities who have a vested financial interest in putting your kid in jail out of work. This is the real fear and this profit-focus is the basis for most of our legislation it seems. Meanwhile Mommy and Daddy suburb are getting blasted on Vicodin and Xanax as a matter of routine. It’s a sick society whose priorities are so disconnected from humanity and focused solely on the enrichment of some at the expense of everyone else. And I’m sure this comment will be branded as extreme liberal silliness. Don’t go for the rational middle ground or anything.

  • Regula

    Only in the US has the police and the court system the time to worry about a joint – seems to have the same attraction to them as bosoms and gays in the military. It is easy to do and not so dangerous. When the crime is real the police tend to disappear fast.

  • Ron Danklefs

    Booze is the real killer, so it’s not as if the government cares about public health. It’s ok buy as many guns as you can fit in your trunk, but getting high is verboten. Pretzel logic..

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