Drug Possession Laws in Massachusetts

Drug courts in Massachusetts can help change your life. This article reviews Massachusetts’ legal process, penalties, and what you can do when you’re caught with controlled substances in your possession.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Have you been caught in the possession of drugs in Massachusetts? This article presents common charges and penalties. Plus, we review how drug courts and rehab can help. 


Basic Definitions

Massachusetts is anything but lenient when it comes to their drug laws. First, drug classifications differ from federal scheduling. Second, Massachusetts courts decide how serious a drug possession crime is first depending on the class of the drug itself. Accordingly, there are three different types of charges law enforcement can give you:

1. Drug Possession, which is defined being caught with a personal amount of a drug on you.

2. Intent to Distribute, defined as holding enough of a drug to sell. The amount depends on the specific substance and how it is classified.

3. Drug Trafficking defined as holding enough of a drug to distribute on a large scale.

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 94C, drugs are classified as certain types of controlled substances. These substances go from A to E, or more dangerous to less dangerous. Section 34 of this law, however, describes Rx drug use as illegal in the state. So, when you use a prescription drug without consent from a licensed physician or an illegal drug is known as a “controlled substance”[1].

Furthermore, Massachusetts has its own classification for controlled substances which differ from other states and the federal government. They are as follows:

  • Class A Substances: Drugs in this category include heroin, morphine, ketamine, and GHB.
  • Class B Substances: Drugs in this category include cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, amphetamines, PCP, methamphetamines, and prescriptions painkiller drugs such as oxycodone.
  • Class C Substances: Drugs in this category include prescription tranquilizers and narcotics, diazepam, hydrocodone, mescaline, and psilocybin mushrooms.
  • Class D Substances: Drugs of this category include marijuana and phenobarbital.
  • Class E Substances: Drugs of this category include prescription opiates at lower doses such as codeine and morphine.

Specific Laws

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 94C, Section 2: Establishment of schedules of drugs or other controlled substances

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 94C, Section 32L: Possession of Marijuana

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 94C, Section 34:Unlawful possession of a particular controlled substance

The Legal Process in Massachusetts

Before you receive sentencing, a court’s judge or jury must find you either guilty or not guilty for the crime you’re accused of.So, how does the court process work? What can you expect for your drug possession charges?

When you’re arrested, you’ll be read your legal rights. Keep these rights in mind as they can play a vital role in later court dates. However, you need to know that there’s potential you receive jail time, depending on your cases. With bigger charges, such as drug trafficking, you can expect to be in jail during this entire process. Your rights in Massachusetts are as follows:

  • The right to remain silent.
  • The right to the presence of an attorney while you’re under questioning. If you can’t afford one, you’ll be appointed one.
  • The right to be considered for bail.? [2]

After being booked, you’ll be brought to a court where your bail will be set. If the court is closed, then the police will reach out to a bail magistrate who’ll give authority to release you or not. If you are released, you’ll have to pay a fine and your court date.This is known as your arraignment date.

During an arraignment, you’ll be read your charges and given the decision to either continue with the court or plead guilty. If you continue to press your innocence, you’ll then receive a pre-trial conference date.

Before you go to court again, you’ll need to talk to your legal defender. S/he will be informed about how to defend your on the day of your trial. They’ll prepare you to the best of their ability and, when the time comes for trial, they’ll defend you.

After going to a pre-trial conference date, you’ll receive your court date. Depending on your circumstances, you might have the ability to resolve your case during this time. However, most drug possession cases will not be waivered.

It usually isn’t until your trial will you will have the ability to properly defend yourself in front of a jury but also receive your verdict. A verdict is a final decision made upon your case where you’ll find out what charges you’re given.

Burden of Proof

Under Massachusetts law, when a charge is made placed against you, the prosecutor must establish the following elements. Without these elements, they will not be able to properly convict you. These include:

1. LEGALITY. There must be evidence that you were in possession of a controlled substance at the time of your arrest.

2. KNOWLEDGE. There must be proof that you were aware of the illegality of this controlled substance…and you knew of its presence.

3. CONTROL. There must be evidence that you were in full control over the controlled substance. This includes both its presence and location.


A drug possession sentence in the state of Massachusetts varies from case to case. As mentioned, Massachusetts courts decide how serious a drug possession crime is first depending on the class of the drug itself. A person with a Class A drug will receive harsher sentences than someone with a Class C drug.

Regardless of the class, as long as you have enough of a controlled substance, you can expect to receive at least some jail time.The least amount of jail time you can receive is through a misdemeanor. It should be noted that misdemeanors only apply to Class D and Class E substances, or if you’re caught solely drug paraphernalia.

All other drug possession cases usually result in a felony charge in Massachusetts.

So, if you’re caught with a Class A, Class B, or Class C controlled substance you can receive a felony charge. However, if you’re caught selling a Class D or Class E controlled substance, you’ll also be charged with a felony. No matter what you’re charged with, you may be eligible for alternative sentencing. See the section on alternative sentencing below for details.

Misdemeanor Possession

A misdemeanor charge is an offense taken less seriously than a felony crime. Therefore, punishments are also less serious too.As mentioned, when it comes to drug possession, misdemeanor crimes are when you’re caught with Class D or Class E controlled substances. Or when you’re caught only with drug paraphernalia.

Typical misdemeanor consequences in Massachusetts include, but aren’t limited to [3]:

  • 6 months in jail
  • A fine of up to $500
  • License suspension for at least a year

Felony Possession

A felony charge is an offense taken much more seriously than a misdemeanor. Therefore, punishments are also taken more seriously.When it comes to drug possession, felony crimes are charged when you’re caught with a Class A, Class B, or Class C controlled substance. However, if you’re caught selling a Class D or Class E controlled substance, you’ll also be charged with a felony.

Typical felony consequences in Massachusetts include, but aren’t limited to:

  • An average fine between $2,000 and $5,000.
  • An average of 3 to 5 years in jail or state prison.
  • License suspension for an average of 3 to 5 years.

Other Penalties

The penalties mentioned above aren’t all you’ll face for a misdemeanor or felony crime. Depending on your situation, you can be charged with other penalties. Furthermore, misdemeanor and felony crimes come with a list of penalties which won’t necessarily be vocalized in court. These include:

  • Inability to obtain certain employment.
  • Inability to obtain certain types of government employment.
  • Inability to qualify for certain types of college scholarship or financial aid.
  • Inability to qualify for public housing.
  • Inability to receive a state license or certification.
  • Possible community service.
  • Possible drug treatment programs.
  • Probation.
  • Suspension of a driving license.

In order to get a clear sense of whether or not any of these penalties pertain to you, you’ll want to talk to a lawyer.

Drug Court

You may be eligible for drug court rather than a traditional court hearing. Drug courts seek out treatment rather than punishment for drug related crimes. Through rigorous drug treatment, people have the ability to learn about the roots of their drug problem. They are then given the opportunity to learn how to reverse these problems and, in turn, go on to live out a drug-free life.

In fact, a drug court is defined by superintended probation and necessary drug treatment along with random drug testing, all of which is supervised by a probation officer. [4] Drug courts have been proven to rehabilitate criminals. Nationwide, it’s estimated that 75% of people who graduate from a drug court don’t receive an arrest for at least two years after the program.

If you believe this is something you’re interested in, we highly suggest talking to your lawyer about checking your qualifications for a drug court. Not everyone is eligible. But, you may be! Or, call us to talk about your rehab options. A drug charge in Massachusetts might be just the wake up call that you need to turn your life around.

Alternative Sentencing

In Massachusetts, you have options for alternative sentencing. However, it’s important to note that you don’t have a decision when it comes to this. Just as with the other penalties you might face, your alternative sentencing is determined through the circumstances of your crime.

Still, it’s beneficial to take a look at these alternative sentences. If you’re only a first time offender, you might have the potential to avoid jail time. It’s vital you talk to your lawyer on this matter as s/he will provide you with the knowledge you need for applying for these alternative sentences.

1. Motion to Suppress

Do you feel as though evidence taken against you was obtained through illegal means? If so, then you can motion to suppress. Your eligibility depends on what happened when you were caught in possession of drugs. Often, the police will make an illegal encounter in order to get to the drugs. You’ll want to talk to matter over with your lawyer in order to see your qualifications.

2. Pretrial Diversion

Only those who are first-time nonviolent offenders are eligible to request a pretrial diversion. If this goes through, you’ll receive probation in which you’ll have to report to a probation officer monthly. You’ll also have to take random drug tests and, depending on your circumstances, you may have to do a certain amount of community service hours. You’ll avoid jail time as long as you don’t commit another crime. Even after you’ve completed probation, you risk jail time for committing a crime as it becomes a second offense.

3. Pretrial Intervention

This is very similar to pretrial diversion, except people who do have a criminal record are eligible to apply. It’s a probation period where you’ll have to report to a court on a regular basis. During this time, you’ll be asked to complete drug addiction assessments, evaluations, and even a treatment program.

4. Submit a Plea

If you’re seeking to complete your probation with as little consequence as possible, you’ll want to submit a plea. You might find difficulty in doing so as Massachusetts has strict rules regarding drug possession. To better understand your eligibility, it’s important to discuss the matter with your lawyer.

If all else fails, you can always go to trial. Though you still risk being found guilty, this is the final way for you to resolve your case.

When to Contact a Lawyer

You should consider contacting a lawyer immediately upon your arrest. As mentioned, Massachusetts has strict laws regarding drug possession and, without the right defense, you might face serious punishments. Not only does a lawyer have the ability to lessen these punishments but the right lawyer can give you opportunities such as a drug court.

When looking for a lawyer, you may assume all you need to do is make a quick Google search. Though this will reveal a list of great options, it’s in your best interest to take a closer look at each lawyer’s experience. For example, you’ll want to check out the Massachusetts Bar Association Directory. [5] This directory will provide you with every lawyer who has a license in the state of Massachusetts.

The importance of a lawyer is the fact that each person’s drug possession case differs. There are factors which can be accounted for in each circumstance. Therefore, a lawyer can pick apart these matters and properly defend you in front of a court of law.

What if you can’t afford a lawyer?

As long as you qualify for a public defender, then the state of Massachusetts will provide you with a public defender. You can expect this lawyer to offer legal advice, free of charge, prior to your court date.

Your Questions

This article aimed to offer you as much information on drug possession laws in Massachusetts as possible.

Still have more questions?

Feel free to ask them in the comments below. If you have more information to share about drug possession laws in Massachusetts, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to get back to everyone in a prompt and personal manner.

Reference Sources:[1] Massachusetts Legislature: Chapter 94C
[2] Mass.gov: Understanding the Criminal Court Process
[3] Boston University: State and Federal Laws and Sanctions Concerning Drugs and Alcohol
[4] Mass.gov: Drug Courts
[5] Massachusetts Bar Association Directory
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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