Baker-Polito administration announce stricter punishment for drug distribution

Both administrations also proposed a public safety package

BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) – Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Secretary of Public Safety and Security Daniel Bennett made an announcement on Wednesday, about a public safety legislation reform package.

The reform package will update drug scheduling and witness intimidation statutes and strengthen penalties for illegal distribution of drugs that result in death and solicitation to commit murder.

The state leaders were joined by different groups including survivors, advocates, members of law enforcement and members of the legislature at the Gavin Foundation’s Devine Recovery Center in South Boston.

“As society keeps seeing evolving public safety threats, like dangerous drugs fueling the opioid epidemic and gang violence in our communities, it is critical that our laws give law enforcement the appropriate tools and enforcement measures to keep everyone safe,” Governor Baker said in a statement.

The four provisions of the Baker-Polito Administration’s legislative package address:

-Linking state drug classifications, with the exception of marijuana and other drugs already classified in Massachusetts, to emergency federal drug scheduling, allowing state law enforcement and prosecutors to more swiftly respond to the influx of new and dangerous synthetic drugs.

-Defining the illegal distribution of dangerous drugs resulting in death as manslaughter punishable by a minimum of five years in prison — the same standard to which a driver under the influence who takes an innocent life is held.

-Bolstering and clarifying witness intimidation statutes to ensure prosecutors have the ability to protect witnesses and their families from retaliation both before and after a trial.

-Updating state law to treat solicitation of murder-for-hire as a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

“Every day in cities and towns across Massachusetts, brave and extraordinary men, women and children step up to help prosecutors and law enforcement identify, convict and put away drug dealers, murderers and other criminals,” Lt. Governor Polito also said in a statement.

Both administrations also proposed a public safety package.

The Baker-Polito Administration’s Legislative Public Safety Package:

-Linked Federal Drug Scheduling: The proposal links state drug classifications, with the exception of marijuana, to the federal scheduling process, as New Hampshire has done, while retaining Massachusetts’ authority to make the final decision on the treatment of new drugs.

-Death Caused by Illegal Distribution of Dangerous Drugs: This proposal would hold drug dealers distributing these dangerous poisons to the same standard, reflecting the seriousness and devastation of the harm they have caused.

-Witness Intimidation and Protection: This proposal would clarify and fix this gap in the statute, as the SJC has suggested, to ensure the Commonwealth’s laws make clear that harm, or threat of harm, will not be tolerated.

-This provision also makes explicit that threats of harm to a family member will be treated just as seriously as a threat to a witness, and updates the Witness Protection Law to ensure prosecutors can assist witnesses and their families to keep them safe from retaliation both before and after a trial.

-Solicitation of Murder: This proposal updates the Massachusetts statute to correct this flaw, and would treat solicitation to commit a felony with the appropriate level of seriousness.

The state’s district attorney, major city police chiefs association and chiefs of police association have all endorsed the legislation.