The Last Weed Defendant

Why is John Rockett still in court for holding half an ounce?
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  December 16, 2010


John Rockett was cruising to Twin River Casino in Rhode Island when an Attleboro cop stopped his dark blue Dodge Caravan for having one headlight out. It was 1:30am, and, having finished his food delivery route early, the reformed "street drunk" was eager to close out his evening at the slot parlor. He'd stopped drinking a decade earlier, and, with a good job and a roof over his head, gambling was one of the few vices that he still entertained.

Peering through the van windows, the officer noticed two straightened, blackened paper clips beside the dashboard cup holder — probable cause to search the vehicle. The 52-year-old Rockett expected the third degree. He knew that a license check would reveal a criminal history with more than 50 arrests, at least five for drunk driving. But he says his only concern was the extinguished headlight, which turned back on when he was allowed to step outside and smack the hood. When the cop asked to search his ride, Rockett conceded.

According to a police report, the cop opened a pack of cigarettes and found a home-rigged tin-foil pipe caked with resin. Near the cigarette pack, in a knapsack on the passenger seat floor, he discovered four plastic baggies containing a combined half-ounce of pot.

Rockett claims that the weed was his brother's, and that he was not knowingly transporting drugs. These days, even with his six-foot-long rap sheet, it wouldn't matter if the stash belonged to Rockett, his brother, or Snoop Dogg. In November 2008 Commonwealth voters approved ballot Question 2, which decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. The resulting statute was activated on January 2, 2009; Rockett was pulled over on September 30, 2008. Had it happened 100 days later, the maximum penalty for his offense would have been a $100 fine.

Instead, today (Thursday, December 16) Rockett has yet another court date for his possession charge. Prosecutors in Bristol County are pursuing him with vigor, dragging Rockett through a legal gauntlet that's brought him to court more than two dozen times since his arrest. Meanwhile, as a result of the charges, he has endured major expenses commuting 50 miles from his home in Hull to courts in Taunton and Attleboro. He also suspects that he lost his job as a trucker because of the drug charges. Rockett gets by as a laborer nowadays; every court appearance means a day without pay.

Marijuana advocates and attorneys from around the state say that Rockett could be the last person in Massachusetts to get prosecuted for holding less than one ounce of weed. By the old statute, someone in Rockett's position could serve up to six months in prison if convicted. At one point prosecutors were pressing for one year on account of his many priors, and recently offered a deal if Rockett agreed to a 90-day probationary period. Rockett refused. After nearly two years, he believes that he's suffered enough, and says he is unwilling to accept anything but a straight dismissal. Rockett hopes to get another job as a truck driver, and is concerned that another drug conviction will sabotage him.

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