Back-to-School: Drugs and Alcohol

With the school year only a few weeks away, we can’t help but think about the myriad of cases on schools and school-aged children that we have defended these 50 years at our family-serving legal office. Being parents, we would like to offer some safety advice, with the hope that this new academic year turns out to be an enjoyable and enriching experience.

Recently Gov. Patrick declared a public health emergency in Massachusetts for the rapidly growing opioid addiction rates. From 2000 to 2012, the number of unintentional opioid overdoses rose by 90%. In the state, a person who consumes opioids is three times more likely to die than a drunk driver. Undoubtedly, this has raised concern among parents about the availability of opioids and other drugs at schools and popular places where children come together.

The law aims to limit access to drugs by minors. According to the Controlled Substances Act, it is illegal to sell, consume or possess drugs, drug paraphernalia including tobacco rolling papers or alcohol within 300 feet of schools, whether public or private, up to secondary school. In 2011 Gov. Patrick tried to reduce this space to 100 feet, though thankfully, without success.

Based on the reported cases in Massachusetts, in 2012 marijuana and alcohol were the most popular drugs among teenagers younger than 18, and also the substances for which they most often sought treatment. Most teenagers start using these substances before reaching high school: the mean age of first alcohol use was 13.2 years, while for marijuana, it was 12.8 years.

How does the law limit access and possession of these substances by minors?

Although Massachusetts decriminalizes marijuana, the law still penalizes possession by minors. One ounce or less of weed by a person under eighteen earns her a civil penalty of $100 and completion of a drug awareness program, as well as parent notification and community service. The larger the amount, the harder the penalties.

In terms of alcohol, Massachusetts has two Use/Lose laws. Underage possession of alcohol is prohibited unless accompanied by a parent, which could lead teenagers to lose their driver’s license for at least 90 days, as well as a fine, community service and enrollment in an alcohol program. Underage purchase is also prohibited, and may lead to driver’s license loss for 180 days. Using a fake ID to purchase alcohol or to gain entrance to alcohol-serving venues may lead to arrest, a $300 fine, license loss for 180 days, and if 18 years or older, the start of a criminal record. If the license is suspended, an attorney may appeal the ruling and get the minor a “Cinderella license” that allows her to drive for twelve hours a day. Even stronger penalties await whoever drives while intoxicated or impaired.

Talking about drugs and alcohol is particularly important if there is a teenager at home. Teenagers are more prone to engage in risky behaviors, such as drinking, smoking and taking drugs, in spite of knowing about the potential consequences, which a recent psychology study has traced to the still maturing brain of teenagers. While the emotional centers develop rapidly during puberty, the frontal cortex, the section of the brain that is most critical for decision-making, is still growing until around age 25. These formative years are crucial in shaping a teen’s personality and actions.

With the recent legalization of marijuana in other states and the continuous online media advertising that popularizes alcohol and portrays weed as an “ok drug,” the perception teenagers gain of these substances may be skewed. It is imperative then that parents need to raise conversations about alcohol and drugs at home, before someone else does it. As the President of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids said, “the most important messengers – the most powerful influencers – in the lives of kids are their parents.”

These are some recommendations for parents on how to start the talk on drugs and alcohol, as proposed by the nonprofit Drug-Free Kids:

1. Rather than generalizing, provide detailed and reality-driven messages, such as the reality that using a drug just once can have serious permanent health and legal consequences, that anybody can become addicted, and that combining drugs can lead to death.
2. Provide examples on what drug use can do to your teen’s future: using drugs and alcohol may compromise on getting acceptance to colleges, on receiving financial aid, or on getting a good job, or any job at all.
3. Challenge your child to be a peer leader among his friends and to take personal responsibility for his actions and show others how to do the same.
4. Encourage your teen to volunteer somewhere that he can see the impact of drugs on your community.
5. Use news reports, such as alcohol-related car accidents and drug-related deaths, as discussion openers.
6. Compliment your teen for the all the things he does well and for the positive choices he makes. After all, teens still care about what their parents think.

To read the full version of the Massachusetts Controlled Substances Act, click here.

Drug and alcohol offenses require the presence of an attorney as soon as possible, to warrant all the legal possibilities available. If you or your child is involved in a drug-related offense, we urge you to call our Drug Violation Criminal Defense Lawyers today. With 50 years of experience handling all types of drug and drug-related cases throughout Massachusetts, our defense attorneys will provide you the most personalized and thorough legal representation in the Boston area. At Altman & Altman, LLP, we are committed to best serve our clients’ legal needs. We are available anytime of the day to provide legal counsel, and will meet to you at your most convenient location to start working on your case. For a free consultation, contact our Boston offices today.

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