The Last Weed Defendant

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  December 16, 2010

Rockett's mom, Anne Rockett, worries for her son. "It's been extremely difficult to see him have to put everything on hold," she says. "No mother likes to see her son in this sort of situation — especially since John was really getting his life together. He's just trying to do his best. I don't know why they can't see that."

Rockett has been to court more than 30 times since his September 2008 arraignment. Some brief appearances have taken minutes, with the defendant ordered to return later. Jury selection has been indefinitely delayed. His court-appointed attorney's motions to suppress evidence — which were all were denied — dragged on from months to years. The commute to court has cost him hundreds of dollars in fuel, and thousands in missed work hours.

Rockett could have pleaded guilty long ago and served prison time, but insists on fighting to the end. Police prosecutors from Attleboro District Court, and now the DA, are also stubborn, refusing to dismiss the charges on account of Rockett's checkered past. By comparison, the Suffolk County DA dismissed more than 400 comparable cases in the wake of decriminalization, and has long since resolved more than 100 others.

Steven Epstein, an attorney and treasurer for the local MassCann chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says Rockett's case, which is entering its 29th month of pre-trial hearings, is an outlier. Indeed, it seems that Rockett was merely in the wrong county, at the wrong time, with the wrong rap sheet and the wrong attitude.

Nonetheless, Rockett doesn't present himself as a martyr. Even if he wished to, the broken veins illuminating his nose would remind him of his past every time he saw a mirror. No matter how long he stays sober, his rap sheet will remain.

"For a long time I wanted to die more than I wanted to be alive," he says. "I don't want that anymore — I don't want to die. All I want is to work and make enough money to pay rent and buy food. All I want is for this whole thing to be over with so I can get on with my life."

Powerful figures are still fighting decriminalization two years after the passage of Question 2. Middlesex County DA Gerry Leone recently said: "We knew [decriminalization] was going to be a nightmare for public safety and law enforcement. An ounce of marijuana can make a thousand joints." Wellesley Deputy Police Chief William Brooks III, speaking on behalf of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, told the Boston Herald: "Most of the drug-related violence you see now — the shootings, the murders — is about weed." Some reform advocates say that DAs and police chiefs are waging preemptive strikes against potential statewide referenda that could further relax marijuana laws.

They have good reason for concern; last month voters in 18 commonwealth municipalities approved non-binding ballot questions to sanction medical marijuana or legalize weed altogether.

While the culture war continues, Rockett finds himself in a tough position. Other than one insurance violation and a 2003 arrest at Boston City Hall for disorderly conduct (the latter charges were eventually dropped), he claims to have led a positive existence since quitting booze. Rockett spent most of his adult years chugging 16-ounce Budweisers, and doing time for behavior that he now acknowledges warranted severe punishments. But while getting sober was the fight of his life, his case in Bristol County is a close second.

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