BOSTON — Four months after marijuana became legal in Massachusetts, people are still getting arrested for pot-related offenses, and police are refusing to give back confiscated drugs, according to court records and interviews with law enforcement officials.
The voter-approved law allows adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in public and up to 10 ounces at home, and to grow up to a dozen plants on their property. The law also allows retail sales, but pot shops aren’t expected to open until the middle of next year.
Until then, buyers and sellers still face marijuana arrests.
Essex County courts arraigned at least 41 people on marijuana-related charges from Dec. 15, when pot became legal to possess and use, through April 4, according to the Essex County District Attorney’s office.
Charges ranged from possession with intent to distribute a Class D substance, a misdemeanor that carries up to two years in prison for a first offense, to a felony trafficking charge that can lead to 2 to 15 years in prison.
Most charges were heard in Lawrence District Court, which serves a region including Andover, North Andover and Methuen. Police in those communities sent at least 16 marijuana arrests to the DA for prosecution, according to the district attorney’s office.
Lynn District Court, which serves an area including Marblehead and Swampscott, has arraigned at least nine people on marijuana charges since Dec. 15. Newburyport and Salem district courts each have seen five cases, while Haverhill’s court had three and Peabody’s had two.
No arraignments or summonses were issued for possession of marijuana above the legal limit, court records show. Several charges involved juveniles.
The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office — whose jurisdiction includes courts in Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop and Revere — has had 66 arraignments for distribution of a Class D substance since Dec. 15, court records show.
Meanwhile, State Police have charged 76 people with pot-related offenses since Dec. 15 — including 51 marijuana arrests and 25 summonses to appear in court, according to spokesman Dave Procopio.
At least 13 charges were for possession, others were for illegal sales.
State Police also made 33 arrests for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana from Dec. 15 to Feb. 24, according to its latest data.
Not targeting users
It’s unclear whether the number of marijuana-related arrests are higher than before legalization. There are no statewide figures for marijuana-related arrests since Dec. 15, and police and prosecutors were unable to provide comparisons.
Overall, arrests for marijuana possession have declined since 2008, when the state’s voters decriminalized pot possession under an ounce.
There were 616 arrests for possession in 2014 — a nearly 93 percent drop from the 8,695 arrests made in 2008, according to the Executive Office of Security and Public Safety.
Interviews with police officials suggest officers haven’t aggressively targeted marijuana users since the drug was legalized last fall.
But they aren’t looking the other way, either.