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The Legalization of Medical Marijuana In Massachusetts Sparks Debate Over Locations Of Dispensaries

A few years ago, Massachusetts decriminalized the possession of marijuana under one ounce. That event sparked a flurry of cases that related to whether the odor of marijuana provided probable cause for police officers to search a car during a routine motor vehicle stop. The case law seems to be favorable for a defendant and limit a police officer’s justification for searching a car after smelling a burnt odor of marijuana –because the odor is not necessarily indicative of the defendant committing a crime. In the event that an individual is in possession of under and ounce of marijuana a civil penalty of $100.00 can be imposed. However, this is not a criminal offense.

For example, in Commonwealth v. Daniel, 464 Mass. 746 (2013), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the allowance of a motion to suppress the confiscation of a gun and ammunition found in the glove box. In Daniel, the police stopped a car for a motor vehicle infraction and smelled the odor of burnt marijuana. Upon questioning by the police officer, the driver produced a small amount of marijuana which prompted the officers to search the car and they ultimately discovered the ammunition and handgun. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the trial court that based on these facts the officers did not have sufficient information to lead a reasonable person to believing that the occupants of the car were armed or dangerous and nothing indicated that the driver’s capacity to drive was impaired. Accordingly, the search of the glove compartment was unconstitutional and the evidence was properly suppressed.

The case law seems to distinguish between a “fresh scent” of marijuana and a “burnt odor” of marijuana. Apparently, a ‘burn odor’ seems to be consistent with personal use, i.e., recently smoked pot. However, if there is a “fresh scent” the argument made by prosecutors is that the product has not been used, thus it is likely for distribution (a crime) and not personal use.

Massachusetts continues to loosen its grip on marijuana use as Massachusetts voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes last November. Many cities have recently been grappling with the appropriate locations for these establishments. For example, in Andover Massachusetts a Newburyport based establishment wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary. The Newburyport News reports that the Andover Board of Selectman are looking to have a one year ban on having such a business in the town. According to the paper, this will give the town leaders time to consider the types of zoning and ordinances that would be necessary for these types of businesses.
With all of these developments it seems that a logical step would be either to decriminalize the distribution/intent to distribute marijuana or at least make the intent to distribute or distribution in a school zone not have a mandatory sentence attached to it. It seems inconsistent for possession of under an ounce to be non-criminal however, the distribution of any amount of the substance is still a criminal offense. It’s tough to wrap your head around such a concept. It is like having possession of alcohol legal but having it be illegal to sell alcohol.


Our Attorney routinely appears in local district courts including Peabody, Concord, Lowell and Lawrence and represents clients charged with illegal possession of drugs, guns and ammunition. Her first line of attack is often to file a motion to suppress the evidence because of illegal police conduct. She has succeeded in having guns and drugs suppressed that has led to the dismissal of complaints against clients.

If you have been charged with a crime and want experience and skill on your side contact Our Attorney on-line or during any time of the day or night. She will get to work on your case immediately.