Baker pushes new drug dealing charges

Backs tougher penalties on sales that lead to opioid overdose deaths


A YEAR AFTER WORKING with the Legislature to try to stem the flow of opioids and improve addiction treatment options, Gov. Charlie Baker is targeting the peddlers of dangerous narcotics with a proposal to enhance penalties for dealing drugs that lead to overdose deaths.

The governor, who sits on President Donald Trump’s opioid task force, also wants to expedite the scheduling of new synthetic drugs, strengthen witness protection laws, and make murder-for-hire plots a serious felony in Massachusetts.

Positive signs in the state’s fight against opioid addictions have emerged since the beginning of the year with 53 fewer people dying of opioid overdoses in the first six months of 2017, a 5 percent decrease from the same period last year.

“It is only through education, prevention, and treatment that, together, we will solve this public health crisis. Our focus must remain on these three pillars of our strategy. While maintaining that focus, however, we should also ensure that those who cause our citizens the most harm by illegally selling drugs that kill people are held accountable for their actions,” Baker wrote in a bill filing letter to lawmak

Baker appeared Wednesday afternoon at the Gavin Foundation’s Devine Recovery Center in South Boston to introduce a new, four-pronged public safety bill.

The proposal comes as legislators are preparing to return from a summer recess after Labor Day for what House Speaker Robert DeLeo has promised to be a busy fall with criminal justice reform among the issues leadership wants to tackle.

Baker, in his filing letter, said his proposal draws from a number of ideas that are already pending before the Legislature in various bills filed this session.

The governor is proposing to make drug dealers whose distribution of those substances leads to the death of a user subject to prosecution for manslaughter, similar to the way the state treats someone whose decision to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs leads to the death of another driver or pedestrian.

The bill would also link state drug classifications, with the exception of marijuana and already scheduled drugs, to emergency federal drug scheduling. The linkage would eliminate any lag time between the federal scheduling of new, synthetic drugs like Carfentanil and 251-NBOMe, known as “N-bomb,” and state action to classify those drugs for prosecution.

The state would retain the right to change the classification of any drug. New Hampshire has already taken a similar step.

“When illegal drug distribution causes a death, laws that were designed to punish the act are inadequate to recognize the seriousness of the resulting harm,” Baker said.

The other two tenets of the governor’s bill deal with witness protection and solicitation for murder.

Baker said loopholes were created under a 2006 rewrite of witness protection laws that, based on a 2011 court ruling, would allow someone to threaten harm to the child of their probation officer in retaliation for their supervision without facing a felony conviction.

The update Baker is recommending would extend witness protection laws to cover retaliatory conduct. “While this may not be the result the Legislature intended in 2006, it remains the law of the Commonwealth today,” the governor wrote.

Engaging in a murder-for-hire plot would also carry more serious penalties.

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Currently treated as a misdemeanor in Massachusetts, solicitation to commit murder would become a felony in the state as it is in states like Maine and New Hampshire, where it is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Baker said the lack of such a punishment has led law enforcement in Massachusetts to request federal assistance in some murder-for-hire cases.