Marijuana Sharing

Despite approval by Massachusetts voters of a ballot measure that decriminalized possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, unwarranted investigations of noncriminal marijuana possession continue. Prosecutors are now focusing on the sharing of marijuana among users, which prosecutors regard as criminal "distribution" even when no money changes hands.

In 2008, more than 65 percent of Massachusetts voters approved a measure meant to reduce punishments for marijuana offenders. Possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is an infraction of the law punishable by a fine, but is no longer a criminal offense. Nonetheless, the Commonwealth has argued in cases since then that sharing noncriminal amounts of marijuana constitutes criminal "distribution"--a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. Under the Commonwealth's theory, anyone who shares a marijuana cigarette is a drug distributor, and someone who engaged in this "distribution" near a school--such as a high school student smoking with his friends--can face enhanced punishment for drug crimes committed in school zones.

In November 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the national American Civil Liberties Union, together with cooperating attorney Alex Philipson, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in a case, Commonwealth v. Pacheco, which challenges this interpretation.

Media

4.5.13

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules social sharing of marijuana is not criminal distribution
News release

11.15.12

ACLU, prosecutors dispute whether sharing marijuana constitutes drug 'distribution'
The Boston Globe

Police continue to investigate low-level marijuana use despite decriminalization
News release

Legal Documents

4.5.13

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rulings

11.15.12

Amicus Brief - ACLU of Massachusetts and ACLU