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Briefly: Massachusetts Governor Proposes New Crime of Manslaughter for 'Drug Dealers'

By Elisabeth J. Ryan

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation yesterday which would, among other things, create a new crime of manslaughter for drug dealers if a person dies from using their drugs.  Specifically, anyone who "manufactures, distributes, or dispenses" any controlled substance would be "strictly liable" if "a death...results from the injection, inhalation, or ingestion of that substance."  The punishment would be a mandatory minimum of 5 years to a maximum of life in state prison.  

The Governor presented this proposal as a new way to fight the opioid epidemic, saying, “[W]e should ensure that those who cause our citizens the most harm by illegally selling drugs that kill people are held accountable for their actions.”  The law, however, doesn’t apply to just opioids; it covers all controlled substances except marijuana. 

Similar laws and prosecutions in Canada and other states have faced significant backlash.