Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Unusual Drug Bust Outside Of Boston No Laughing Matter

It was not downtown Boston, but downtown Northampton that hosted a concert featuring a jam band known as the Disco Biscuits, resulting in fourteen arrests. The somewhat unusual scene apparently led suspects laughing all the way to meeting their attorneys at Northhampton District Court where they were advised of their charges.

The nature of the charges? Drugs and juvenile in possession of alcohol.

But there was a twist in this one.

Perhaps inspired by the noteworthy performance of the late Heath Ledger as The Joker in 2008’s blockbuster film “The Dark Knight”, some of those arrested were in possession of tanks containing nitrous oxide.

You may have heard of it as “laughing gas”.

Police found that the suspects had set up metal cylinders of nitrous oxide in various locations, including one police discovered in alley off King Street right next to the theater. They were selling balloons filled with the gas for $5 apiece, Police Capt. Kenneth A. Patenaude said.

About a half-hour later, a crowd of 40 to 50 youths led police to discover another tank set up in the alley next to Florence Savings Bank on Pleasant Street. Yet another of the tanks was confiscated Saturday night from a room at the Quality Inn after a disturbance was reported there, according to Patenaude.

Police also confiscated two grams or less of ketamine – an animal tranquilizer, three grams or less of cocaine, about 44 grams of marijuana, a small amount of Ecstasy and some alcohol (these were minors) and hundreds of the “ha-ha balloons”.

Five of the arrests occurred Friday night and the other nine on Saturday night. Two alleged offenders were taken into protective custody and nearly a half-dozen more required medical treatment inside the Calvin Theater or were taken to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital after passing out or suspected of overdosing on drugs, Patenaude said.

The charges ranged from minors in possession of alcohol, to various illegal drug possession to selling a toxic substance (nitrous oxide), Patenaude said.

Attorney Sam’s Take:

As with yesterday’s daily blog, there may be revelations for you in today’s story about criminal justice reality. Today, that would fall under the category of what is, and, perhaps more importantly, is not, legal.

I would be a bit stunned if you were unaware that possession of cocaine, ecstasy and above a certain amount of marihuana is illegal. Likewise, I would expect you are aware that it is not legal for a minor to be possessing and consuming alcohol. You might even have a suspicion that you are not supposed to be enjoying concerts while in possession of animal tranquilizers unless, perhaps you are on safari (which has never been considered a valid defense in the Commonwealth).

But laughing gas?

Nitrous oxide is sometimes used in dental or medical settings. Straight possession of it is not necessarily illegal. That is, if you just sit around looking at it.

Under Chapter 270 of the Massachusetts General Laws, it is, however, illegal to smell or inhale its fumes for the “purpose of causing a condition of intoxication, euphoria, excitement, exhilaration, stupefaction, or dulled senses or nervous system”. Likewise, it is not legal to “possess, buy or sell any such substance for the purpose of violating or aiding another to violate this section.”

A general rule of thumb is that if a substance is used to intoxicate oneself, it is most likely, at least, regulated. Certainly, if you are a juvenile, assume it illegal for you. If you are an adult…better look into it before you either use it yourself or offer it to another.

In Massachusetts, the “sale” of a controlled substance does not necessitate payment. A generous free offering is considered a sale. And is usually illegal.

Exercise, and its natural release of endorphins, still remains legal, though.

The full articles of this story can be found at http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/01/northampton_police_arrest_14_o.html and http://www.collegenews.com/index.php?/ear_candy/the_disco_biscuits_draw_both_rabid_fans_and_police_1202009/

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