Intent to Distribute Marijuana in Massachusetts

In Commonwealth v. Stampley, a Massachusetts defendant appealed from a jury conviction under G.L. c. 94C, § 32C(a) for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He argued that the evidence was not sufficient to show he had intent to distribute.

The case arose in the evening when the defendant and a female friend were alone on the bleachers in a field smoking a blunt (a marijuana cigar). The smell attracted a police officer’s attention. He approached them and noted they seemed to be in their mid-teens. He noticed they were fidgeting, and they gave him false names. The defendant consented to a search of his backpack. Inside the front were 13 blue-tinted sealed mini-Ziploc bags. The defendant’s friend had four of these. There was nothing else on the defendant that suggested he was involved in drug sales.

In a prior case, the court held that five plastic bags of marijuana inside a defendant’s pocket didn’t support an inference that he intended to distribute them. Neither did his defensive demeanor. He didn’t have cash, a scale, a cell phone or pager, or empty plastic bags. There wasn’t enough probable cause to issue a complaint.

Similarly, in another prior case, when a juvenile had 13 individually wrapped bags of marijuana, there was no inference of intent to distribute even though he was nervous and there was the smell of unburnt marijuana. However, in another case, where there were 20 separate dime bags of marijuana, each of which had street value, this was consistent with an intent to distribute.

In this case, the appellate court noted that there wasn’t evidence that the 13 bags were dime bags. There were no other smoking paraphernalia or other items associated with the drug trade. The court concluded that the evidence of intent to distribute was not stronger than the evidence that was found insufficient in the first two prior cases it considered.

The only thing that distinguished the current case was the experienced narcotics officer’s expert testimony. He’d testified that dime bags are the smallest unit of marijuana for purchase, and they usually contained only enough for a joint, a blunt, or a bowl. Generally, they were for people who were not heavy users but wanted something for personal use.

He didn’t testify about the packaging of dime bags, however, and there was no witness presented that the defendant’s bags were dime bags. He also testified that it would be significant to him that somebody had more than 10 small bags of marijuana on them for the purposes of determining intent to distribute, but the judge cut off the testimony and instructed the jury that it was up to them to make this determination.

The court explained that this testimony was based on the assumption that an individual probably wouldn’t consume more than 10 dime bags of marijuana at a sitting and therefore is probably selling the marijuana.

The court found this opinion inherently flawed and legally incompetent, since the jury was left to speculate about intent but assume that the speculation was relevant. The court also explained that it is important for the court to be vigilant regarding charges of intent to distribute if the amount of marijuana possessed is less than the one-ounce threshold that would make the possession a crime. The judgment was set aside.

If you are charged in Massachusetts with a drug crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014

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