Opioid Ills Drive State’s

April 6, 2018 GMT

The comprehensive justice system reforms passed by the state Legislature reflect the evolving nature of how we treat crimes fueled by either drug dependency or the distribution of those addictive substances.

In the former case, these revisions signal a shift away from punishment toward rehabilitation and substance-use treatment in an effort to reduce recidivism.

As for traffickers, especially those who deal in the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl, it means harsher penalties with lower thresholds of guilt.

The bill includes provisions that create new penalties for offenders charged with their sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth operating-under-the-influence violation.


The bill, while far from perfect, aims to strike a balance. That’s why the legislation, passed easily in the Senate and House, received mostly favorable reviews from the state’s 11 district attorneys.

With the state in the throes of a deadly opioid epidemic that’s spread nationwide, it’s imperative we take steps that enable addicts to get the rehab help they need. With few exceptions, that won’t happen in the commonwealth’s jails and prisons. At the same time, we must vigorously prosecute those who feed this destructive habit.

The focus on drug treatment can be seen in other sections of the bill, which include eliminating some mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, such as first and second offenses for cocaine possession.

The legislation also increases the baseline for felony larceny from $250 to $1,200. It’s a recognition that many of those crimes serve only to sustain someone’s substance-abuse habit, which won’t be arrested if we only prosecute the symptom and ignore the underlying reason.

The new law seeks to keep individuals on the street, rather than sitting in prison simply because they don’t have the means to secure their release. It would mandate that a judge setting bail must consider, to the extent practicable, the defendant’s financial resources.

Other measures designed to remove the stigma associated with a conviction include erasing the records of some offenses committed by offenders up to age 21; adults could apply to have their records expunged of crimes no longer considered illegal in Massachusetts, such as possession of marijuana.

We can’t support the entire legislation, like language that would forbid parents from testifying against their minor children. For example, a mother who saw her 17-year-old son kill someone couldn’t testify in court against him, with the only exception being when the victim is a family member and resides in the household.

While we understand the reasoning behind this broad revision of our criminal justice laws, we despair over the rising illegal use of opioid drugs and how certain people who knowingly make bad -- and criminal -- choices are now deemed “victims”. We wouldn’t be surprised if Gov. Charlie Baker orders some modifications to the bill, but overall we’d expect it to survive generally intact.