Drug Policy

Massachusetts Mulls Whether to Classify Drug Dealers as Murderers

Even while scaling back mandatory minimums, politicians can't resist trying to punish people to fight drugs.


Gov. Charlie Baker
Gov. Charlie Baker via. Evan Sayles/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Massachusetts state senators approved a massive criminal justice reform bill last night that would eliminate many drug-related mandatory minimum sentences (including those arbitrarily connected to "school zones"), restrict the use of solitary confinement, decriminalize sex between minors of similar ages, and set the age the criminal justice system considers you an adult at 19.

Unfortunately, it will also introduce a terrible new tool to the drug war.

To satisfy the urges of the state's Republican governor, Charlie Baker, the reform bill (S.2185) was amended yesterday to charge anybody who deals drugs with second-degree murder if someone they sold drugs to dies of an overdose.

Here's the amendment:

Any person while in the course of trafficking or unlawfully distributing a controlled substance as defined in Section 32E who knowingly or intentionally manufactures, distributes, dispenses, delivers, gives away, barters, administers or provides any amount of a controlled substance or counterfeit substance which results in death shall be punished as murder in the second degree as defined by section 1 of chapter 265. (b) Lack of knowledge of any previous health conditions shall not be a defense to any person who violates the provisions of this section.

According to WBUR, this amendment has itself been amended in order to make it clear that the law is intended to go after dealers, not people who share drugs. If that's the actual intent, Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr may have underestimated the creativity of prosecutors by including the words "barters," "administers," and "provides."

Just look at Florida to see how this legislation goes astray. The state has had a law on the books that allows prosecutors to charge drug dealers with first-degree murder when somebody dies of an overdose. The law's application has absolutely not been limited to trying to lock away drug dealers. A woman was recently charged with murder when her friend died of a drug overdose. The woman had taken money from her friend and introduced her to the dealer, but she was not a drug dealer herself.

It's a frustrating and chronic problem. Even as they recognize that heavy mandatory minimum sentences have not been successful in stopping drug use, politicians—and, honestly, a significant part of the population—cannot set aside the idea that this crisis can be stopped by harshly punishing the right people.

NEXT: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Early LSD Guru

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  1. Yeah, well, people keep acting as if they own their bodies, and SOMEBODY’S gotta pay for that.

    1. Car manufacturers and highway builders push their products, knowing full well that the result will be innocent babies killed in highway accidents! Murder charges for them, too!!!!

      1. So you’re saying that we must DO SOMETHING, starting with some sensible car control laws, for the children.

        I mean, nobody NEEDS a car that carries more than two people or can go faster than, say, 50 mph, right? For that matter, unless you are a cop or government official, maybe you don’t need a car at all.

  2. Sounds like the perfect compromise. Social prudes (i.e. Republicans) still get to put someone in jail for drug offenses, and socialists (i.e. Democrats) get to prosecute capitalists.

  3. charge anybody who deals drugs with second-degree murder if someone they sold drugs to dies of an overdose.

    They’re using manslaughter now along with drug distribution charges so murder will be a nice upgrade.

  4. I thought they would start with gun owners and tax avoiders first.

  5. Massholes

  6. “the law is intended to go after dealers, not people who share drugs”

    Many of the worst laws ever passed had a well-meaning intent but accomplished the exact opposite of that intent.

  7. Fans of Big Government, whether of the Red Team or Blue Team variety, always react this way when one of their precious programs is failing. The law isn’t strict enough! It isn’t being enforced brutally enough! The punishments aren’t draconian enough! The budget isn’t big enough!

    The one answer that’s absolutely not on the table: maybe this was just a bad idea.

  8. The govts own policies create the unnecessary risks that lead to unnecessary deaths. They don’t know it but these drug warrior politicians have literally condemned themselves as murderers.

  9. “To satisfy the urges of the state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, the reform bill (S.2185) was amended yesterday…”

    Huh. Whenever I want to satisfy my urges, it doesn’t lead to some authoritarian crackdown on the personal choices of others. I guess that’s why politics never appealed to me. I just can’t get into the whole “control other people” mindset.

  10. the law is intended to go after dealers, not people who share drugs.

    “Oh, well. Fuck *those* subhumans, too.”

  11. So, let me guess: Trump is crazy, but Massachusetts wants to go Duarte?

    That’s totes consistent.

  12. It’s a frustrating and chronic problem.

    Yes, it is. The frustrating and chronic problem is this:
    (1) legislators introduce a badly-worded and overly vague bill.
    (2) Prosecutors then parade to the hearing room to assure everyone that the vagueness won’t be a problem, because the law will only be used against those people, promise! Double pinky swear!
    (3) Legislators, either because they are naive idiots or because they just don’t care that much (probably both), say “See! It’ll be fine.” and pass the bill, with predictable results.

    Seriously, every prosecutor who steps up and promises to make a bad law good through selective enforcement ought to be tased. Every legislator stupid enough to believe it ought to be tased twice.

  13. So doctors and pharmacists can kill at will.

  14. So, this applies to doctors and pharmacists, too, if a patient OD’s on subscription drugs?

    1. If they’re illegally distributing drugs, sure

  15. Can we please demand that every time someone else wants to use the force of government to solve a problem, they must first demonstrate ONE time where government actually solved a problem and didn’t make it worse and more expensive?

    1. Interstate Highway System?
      The Internet?

      Granted those are few and far between. But you asked for ONE time.

      1. Neither of those are/were really ‘problems’.
        I was thinking more along the lines of government involvement in issues like poverty, housing, college costs, etc.
        And, the waste, fraud, corruption, and outright thievery involved in highway construction and maintenance by both federal and state/local governments could fill volumes.

  16. Anybody who thinks drug “dealers” are bad guys who are “profiting” from the drug trade should see the movie “The Connection” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054763/?ref_=nv_sr_7

    It’s a film version of an off-Broadway play of the same title.

    Act 1: A bunch of people (including a nun) sit around waiting for the “connection” to bring them some heroin.
    Act 2: The connection arrives, and various people go into the bathroom briefly, then come back out behaving rather differently than they did.

    It’s a chilling but accurate depiction of the drug scene, at least as it existed in Manhattan in the late 50s and early 60s.

  17. Maybe anyone who supports drug prohibition should be charged with murder. They’re vastly more to blame than those trying to satisfy consumer demand under difficult circumstances.

  18. While police who, deliberately and with malice, shoot suspected drug users during raids or so-called “sting” (formerly known as entrapment) operations get paid vacations, promotions, and comfortable retirements? ‘Murica.

  19. Yet another example of how Accomplice Liability laws are used to blame someone for the actions of others! Be careful the next time you tell someone to go jump off a bridge, you most likely will end up in prison.

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