Erik Lang, 20, was arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana on February 27th after a traffic stop in North Andover. Police allegedly stopped Lang after learning that his license was suspended. Further investigation revealed that Lang had there-quarters of a pound of marijuana with him. Police told the local newspaper that the amount indicates that Lang had the marijuana for “more than personal use.” Lang has been charged with driving after license suspension, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and possession of marijuana.
Contrary to what the police officer suggested to the newspaper, quantity of drugs is far from dispositive on intent to distribute. There are a number of indicia considered in assessing whether there was an intent to distribute drugs. Factors considered include: the packaging of the drugs; presence of paraphernalia associated with distributing drugs, such as scales, plastic baggies and cutting agents; presence of large amounts of cash; and multiple cell phones. Lack of intent to distribute is a common, and often viable, defense in these types of cases.
As a Massachusetts drug crimes defense lawyer, I’m interested in the nature and extent of the “investigation” that followed the stop. There have been important legal search and seizure developments in the context of marijuana-related searches ever since possession of one ounce or less of marijuana became a civil, as opposed to criminal, offense in Massachusetts. Depending on the facts and circumstances of the encounter, Lang might have solid grounds for a motion to suppress evidence.
I’d also be interested in whether there were other occupants of the car, whether this defendant owned the car, and the location of the alleged marijuana. These factors are important in considering a lack of possession defense. For example, if the car did not belong to this defendant and the alleged drugs were in the trunk or under a seat, he might be able to argue that he did not know that the drugs were in the car and that he did not have control over the drugs.
Some tend to forget that possession of more than an ounce of marijuana is still a criminal offense in our Commonwealth. Here, it seems inappropriate that the defendant is charged with both possession and possession with intent. When the Commonwealth charges two drug violations , the specific controlled substance supporting each charge must be a “separate item” or “separate unit of prosecution.” In this example it appears that both the possession and possession with intent charges are based on the same item.