Massachusetts lawmakers eyeing change to drug offense penalties

Current law enables Massachusetts to suspend the driver’s license of anyone convicted of certain drug offenses.

Years ago, a Massachusetts man had his license suspended due to a drug possession conviction. According to the Boston Globe, the man spent decades in and out of the prison system. Today, the 45-year-old is passionate about preventing others from getting into the kind of trouble he got into. Unfortunately, he had to forgo a job working in the substance abuse treatment industry because it required that he drive a vehicle. Though his license suspension is over, he has not been able to scrape together the money to pay the reinstatement fees.

Massachusetts has a law in place that will suspend a driver's license if the person is convicted of a drug offense. However, there is growing support to repeal the measure.

What the law says

There are varying revocation periods based on which crime the defendant is convicted of, according to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. The timeframe will be anywhere from one to five years, such as in the following cases:

  • Selling drug paraphernalia: one year
  • Possession of a Class D or E substance with the intent to distribute: two years
  • Possession of cocaine with intent to distribute: three years
  • Possession of a Class C substance with intent to distribute: four years
  • Trafficking, distributing, dispensing or making a Class A, B or C substance: five years

Under the state's Controlled Substances Act, someone who possesses less than an ounce of marijuana will not have the crime reported to the department.

By the numbers

The Boston Globe reports that last year, 5,431 people faced license suspension due to drug convictions in Massachusetts. In order to reinstate the license, there are certain fees that must be paid, which can total hundreds of dollars. The Globe notes that fewer than half the people whose licenses were suspended last year based on drug-related charges paid the fees to get back their driving privileges.

The push for repeal

When the law went into effect in 1989, there was a national movement to crack down on drug crimes. Yet as people pushing for repeal of the law point out, most drug crimes have nothing to do with driving. Further, the Globe notes that the measure has not been proven to serve as a deterrent to drug offenses.

The real effects of the license suspension are visible among the people who are unable to get together the hundreds of dollars it can cost to get a license reinstated. The Globe reports that as a result, many people are forced to drive without a license, which can lead to further legal trouble. Additionally, many of these people live in low-income neighborhoods and are already struggling to make ends meet.

In July of this year, the Massachusetts Attorney General testified before the Joint Committee on Transportation, advocating for the repeal of the law. It remains to be seen if state lawmakers will take action, helping thousands of people across the state who are trying to rebuild their lives.

People who have concerns regarding this matter should speak with a criminal defense attorney.