Bill Allows Some Drug Offenders to get their Licenses Back
Recent changes to drug offender rehabilitation and reintegration laws could have a long-lasting impact in Massachusetts. A bill to remove Massachusetts’ long standing policy of suspending the drivers licenses of those convicted of drug offenses was approved in the first House session of 2016. The Massachusetts Senate passed a similar rule in 2015 and Governor Charlie Baker has been supportive of the concept as well.
1989 Law took a Hardline Approach
Under the original law, driver’s licenses of those convicted of drug crimes were automatically suspended for up to five years, even if the original crime had nothing to do with operating a motor vehicle. Once the suspension period ended, an individual convicted of a drug crime often had to pay a hefty fine to get that license back.
This hardline approach to license suspensions started several decades ago, in the 1989, as part of the state’s war on drugs. At the time the legislation was enacted, anyone convicted of a drug offense was included, even when that offense had nothing to do with driving or operating a motor vehicle.
The Problem: How to Reintegrate into the Community
After serving time, drug offenders will ideally reintegrate back into the community and into their own family. By removing the ability to legally drive a car, the original law made it more difficult for offenders to do so; most were left unable to get to appointments, job interviews or to hold steady employment because of lack of transportation.
A suspended license caused other problems as well, with some former offenders mentioning that their drug offense was tied to their driving record, making it difficult to get employment or insurance even after the 5 year suspension term ended. In 2015, over 5,400 people had licenses suspended as a result of a drug offense in Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe.
New Law Helps Rehabilitate and Reintegrate into Society
The new bill aims to help those convicted of drug offenses rehabilitate and reintegrate into society by making it easier for offenders to work and serve their families after a sentence ends. The bill is not designed to remove suspensions for people who have been convicted of drug offenses while operating a vehicle, including driving under the influence.
According to Attorney General Maura Healey, in a statement after the changes were approved “This outdated state law is an unnecessary barrier and burden for thousands in this state trying to rebuild their lives and stay out of the criminal justice system. The current license suspension policy makes it impossible for many to get a job and support their families. A person whose license has been revoked can’t drive their children to school, go grocery shopping, take a family member to a doctor’s appointment, or assist an elderly relative. ”
How Will the New Law Impact Me?
If you have been convicted of a drug offense in Massachusetts, the new law will make it easier for you to return to your normal life after your sentence. These changes do not apply to those convicted of trafficking large amounts of drugs or those who operated a motor vehicle while under the influence.