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Under the current law in Massachusetts, marijuana may be legally prescribed by a doctor to the patient. There are more than 12,000 people in the Commonwealth who are allowed, under State law, to purchase the drug. Yet it remains a defined controlled substance, illegal under federal Law.  To seek State approval to acquire marijuana for medical purposes, one must meet with a MA State certified doctor who has been approved for prescribing the drug. There are about 108 approved doctors statewide. The nearest marijuana distribution center serving the North Shore, including the cities and towns of Lynn, Lynnfield, Danvers and Peabody, is in Salem and there is an application pending for a second dispensary in Saugus.

commerce-acts-books-477966-mTo get started you select a clinic or approved Doctor. You must have a “debilitating condition”, for example anxiety or chronic pain, and the certifying Doctor must agree that you will benefit from medical cannabis. You will then get a PIN and a logon and can register in the state’s gateway.  Next is a 15 step process through the gateway to formally register. Once approved you will get a card in the mail and can then go to the dispensary for your medication.

This November a ballot question seeks to expand marijuana use to legalize it for recreation purposes.   The Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Question 4 is on the November 8, 2016 ballot in Massachusetts as an indirect initiated state statute.

  “yes” vote supports this proposal to legalize marijuana, but regulate it similar to alcoholic beverages.
“no” vote opposes this proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, keeping only medical marijuana legal.[1]

If ballot question 4 is passed and then becomes law, individuals over twenty one years old will be allowed to grow, possess and use marijuana (subject to Federal law).,_Question_4_(2016)

According to experts, this may have a significant effect on automobile safety, accidents and personal injuries. “Marijuana use in driving is a growing, contributing factor to fatal crashes,” said Jake Nelson, the director of traffic safety advocacy and research at the American Automobile Association (AAA) said. “It’s a highway safety problem that we should all be concerned about.”

Studies have shown that in those states where marijuana has become legal, the number of drivers who had traces of marijuana in their blood and were involved in fatal accidents, has doubled. More research needs to be done to determine if there is a safe level of THC in the blood stream, what will be defined as impaired driving, and how to accurately and fairly test the level to protect society, yet respect privacy and prevent unwarranted searches.

Blood level of alcohol is an accurate measure of impairment and with properly calibrated equipment or a blood test, can be reliably measured. The state is able to define limits for acceptable levels of blood alcohol and when one is impaired. Unfortunately the same is not true for defining or measuring impairment with marijuana (THC).

Alcohol and THC are different drugs, each of which react in the body differently. To try to use breath test or blood test similar to the one that measures blood alcohol content will not yield accurate information as to driving impaired, or not, under THC. Currently, in states that have legalized marijuana, authorities are using a combination of field sobriety tests, blood tests and evidence from drug impairment experts to identify and define drivers who are impaired by THC. A growing body of thought is to reverse the burden once THC is found in the blood system. It would require the driver accused of operating impaired, to prove that he was not. This would be a dramatic shift in burden and raise potential issues of constitutionality.

The outcome of ballot question 4 may have a significant impact on safe driving and auto accidents and injuries in the years to come.

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Upon the death of a family member, a question often arises as to who is entitled to receive the assets of the deceased. Whether there is a Will or not, family and friends may squabble over the property, and descent and distribution of estate gifts may be the subject of disagreement. On the North Shore of Massachusetts there are probate courts in Salem and Lawrence for Essex County, Cambridge for Middlesex County and Boston for Suffolk County.  Probate of the estate and any disagreement over the estate will likely be handled in the Probate Court for the county where the deceased resided at date of death.

commerce-acts-books-477966-mThe deceased may have expressed his or her wishes for the disposition of property by making a Will and specifying who gets what. The assets may be divided up depending on many factors, including value, type of property (real estate, bank accounts, stocks, cars, personal property or intangible property), or perhaps on the number of heirs, closeness of family, financial need of family members, or just the whim of the decedent.  If no Will is found then the property is divided according to law or state statute, and will generally follow lines of consanguinity (family bloodlines or relatives).

With or without a Will, surviving family, friends and institutions such as charities or religious groups, may seek to claim an interest in the assets of the deceased. Disputes as to where the property and assets go may arise from promises made during the lifetime of the deceased, expectations of presumed recipients of the gift(s), the mental capacity of the deceased or possibly from alleged failure of the fiduciary of the estate to properly carry out the handling of the estate or assets.

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There are a large number of limousine company’s on the North Shore, in cities such as Lynn, Lynnfield, Saugus and Danvers.

commerce-acts-books-477966-mA recent news article published in the Boston Globe entitled, Two passengers fell out of party bus window concerns a limo company and details the tragic death of a woman in East Boston.  According to the report, a group of 20 friends retained a limousine “for a night on the town” on August 21, 2016.  The group went to an area beach and was returning when the emergency window opened and two women fell out and were subsequently hit by another vehicle leaving one injured and one fatally wounded.  A question has arisen as to the negligence of the limousine company and if they are responsible for the wrongful death of a young woman and the serious injuries of another.

In Massachusetts, wrongful death is governed by M.G.L. Ch. 229, Section 2 which states that a person or company may be liable for the wrongful death if the person or company causes the death of another by:

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It’s summer fun and sun and vacation time.  Vacationers from Peabody, Danvers, Saugus, Salem, Lynn and Wakefield are taking their activities outside to enjoy the balmy breezes and dry pleasant air.  Kids of all ages are pedaling the bike paths and rail trials all over the North Shore. Motorists are enjoying the scenery, taking day trips to the beautiful sandy beaches and strolling the outdoor shopping centers, such as the Lynnfield Market Street.  The North Shore in the summertime is abundant with tourists and residents appreciating all that Massachusetts and the North Shore have to offer.  Unfortunately, along with the crowds enjoying outdoor activities, comes the potential for accidents.  If you are injured while participating in a summer activity, you should consider speaking with an experienced injury lawyer.

commerce-acts-books-477966-mBicycle accidents, car accidents or slips and falls can cause serious injuries, medical expenses and lost time at work.  Talking to a knowledgeable personal injury attorney could go a long way towards getting you a fair settlement for your injuries.  If you have severe injuries, expensive medical bills, or significant loss of wages because of your injuries from an accident, you should consult with a lawyer who practices in the areas of accident and injury law.  Some personal injury lawyers may focus on one area of personal injury in particular, such as slip and fall accidents or car accidents or wrongful death.  One good way to find an experienced accident attorney is by referral, another is to speak with family and friends or search the internet to see what other people have to say about the attorney that you are considering.

If you have an injury from an accident and seek compensation from the wrongdoer, you can expect them to have a lawyer or trained claim handler to review and respond.  This person is not looking out for you.  Rather, they may be trying to trick you into saying something that can be misinterpreted or taken out of context and then be used to reduce or deny your claim.  Level the playing field, don’t wait, get your own skilled lawyer to help as soon as you can.

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Spring is in full bloom on the North Shore.  The trees are green again and pollen abounds.  “Open House” and “For Sale” signs grace the lawns of homes in Reading, Wakefield, Lynnfield, Peabody, Lynn and across the North Shore.  Spring is a great time for Buyers and Sellers.  A green lawn and blooming flowers help draw Buyers’ eyes and may enhance a home’s value.  Whether buying or selling a home, having a lawyer on your side from the beginning can help the process go smoothly.  Real estate closings are just one instance where buyers and sellers alike may want to consider hiring an attorney.

commerce-acts-books-477966-mNavigating an offer to purchase and then a purchase and sale agreement and finally the real estate closing can have challenges.  For one thing, paperwork with complex terms and forms can be confusing.  Negotiating the terms of the offer before signing anything, may prove very important.  Purchasing a home is a big investment; make sure you are protecting your investment from the beginning.  Closings can be particularly challenging if there are issues that arise from the title examination or the home inspection.  If you are unsure if you should handle a closing on your own, the best solution would be to hire an attorney to represent your interests and handle the details.

When it comes to getting answers to questions about a possible real estate transaction, it is invaluable to ask a lawyer who specializes in real estate.  You wouldn’t ask your local supermarket manager a question about a healthcare concern nor would you ask your doctor if the supermarket fish special is fresh!  Why then would you ask anyone other than a real estate lawyer a question about a real estate transaction?  Finding the real estate attorney may be a critical part of purchasing or selling a home.  Buying a home is a significant investment of both time and money and can be worrying for first-time home buyers and more experienced buyers and sellers.  Even if you have a family lawyer or a close friend that is a lawyer, it is important that you consider hiring an experienced real estate attorney to represent you for a sale, purchase or refi and to better protect your rights and interests.

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The beach beckons. As the weather improves folks on the North Shore from Lynnfield, Saugus, Lynn, Danvers and all around, start to look to spend time at the beach, including Cranes Beach in Ipswich, Long Beach in Gloucester, Lynch Beach in Beverly or maybe Salisbury Beach or Revere Beach.  After a day down the shore it is common to start driving home as the sun is setting.   One important safety factor when driving after sunset is good clear operating headlights. Nearly half of all traffic deaths occur in the dark or in dawn or dusk conditions, thus the importance of upgraded headlights is clear and has the potential to bring about substantial reductions in fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

commerce-acts-books-477966-mAs headlights have progressed over the years, drivers are now able to change their headlights to help with glare and better visibility in general.  There are two main styles of headlights on the market right now.  The older design is a reflector style lamp which has a large reflective surface in the back lining of the headlight.  The reflective disk emits the light forward in a pattern to light up the road ahead but not blind oncoming cares.  The newer headlights have projector style lamps where a focus lens is at the front of the lamp, the bulb is located in the rear of the lens unit and the light is transmitted forward to the lens to create and direct the beam’s pattern.  Retrofit kits offering high intensity discharge lamps to replace the older style are now available. These kits are relatively inexpensive, but once installed in a reflector style headlight they create an unfocused light that often throws light patterns too high and wide and may result in a safety risk to oncoming drivers.

Government standards for headlights allow a huge variation in the amount of illumination they provide. For example, the Prius V headlights earn a good visibility rating when the car is equipped with LED lights and high-beam assist.  However, when the Prius V is equipped with regular halogen lights and without high-beam assist, the car earns a poor rating.  The Prius V’s LED lights on average will give a driver traveling 70 miles per hour enough time to avoid an obstacle where a car with halogen head lights would need to drive 20 miles per hour slower to avoid the same obstacle.

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There are so many beautiful areas throughout Essex County, Middlesex County and the North Shore.  Raising a family, owning a home or renting an apartment, working or working out; all of these activities can result in the need to sign legal documents, Deeds, Wills and the like.  Often a signature on a legal document will require an acknowledgment from a notary public.  So just what is a notary acknowledgment?

commerce-acts-books-477966-mAccording to Revised Executive Order No. 455 (04-04) Standards of Conduct for Notaries Public a “Notary public” or “notary” means any person commissioned to perform official acts pursuant to Article IV of the Articles of Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution and a “Notarial act” and “notarization” shall mean any act that a notary public is empowered to perform under this executive order.  An “Acknowledgment” is a notarial act in which an individual, at a single time and place: (a) appears in person before the notary public and presents a document; (b) is identified by the notary public through satisfactory evidence of identity; and (c) indicates to the notary public that the signature on the document was voluntarily affixed by the individual for the purposes stated within the document and, if applicable, that the individual had authority to sign in a particular representative capacity.

The notary acknowledgment is the same whether it is on a deed to a home, a mortgage, a Will, or even an Affidavit.  The acknowledgment is used to prove that the person who signed the instrument was the person intended to sign the instrument, that the signature is genuine, that the signor understood what they were signing and did so of their own free will and voluntarily.  It is important that the notary acknowledgment be properly completed because if not, the instrument could be rendered ineffective.  For example, as found in a recent bankruptcy case in Massachusetts (see Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Mortgages—Acknowledgement—Voluntariness by Tom Egan), In Re: Reznikov, Fanni (Chapter 7 Case No. 14-10589-FJB; Adversary Proceeding No. 15-1003-FJB) the Chapter 7 trustee challenged the validity of a mortgage arising from a question on the sufficiency of the notary’s acknowledgment.  The Chapter 7 trustee sought to “avoid a mortgage held by James B. Nutter & Company” granted to James B. Nutter & Company by the bankruptcy debtor, Fanni Reznikov.  The trustee argued that the “mortgage was defective under Massachusetts law because it does not express that the debtor executed the mortgage voluntarily or as “her free act and deed”.   James B. Nutter & Company as the holder of the mortgage tried to refute the trustee and argued that because the Acknowledgement stated that the Debtor ‘duly acknowledged to [the Notary] that [she] executed the [Mortgage].’ that should be “sufficient to express that the Debtor indicated to the Notary that she executed the Mortgage voluntarily or as “her free act and deed”.  The Bankruptcy Court judge disagreed and ruled that the notary acknowledgement was “materially defective because it fails to represent that the Debtor indicated to the Notary that she executed the mortgage voluntarily or as her free act and deed”.  The mortgage was deemed not a valid lien.

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Will you have enough money to retire?   No matter where you live on the Northshore, in towns such as Lynnfield, Peabody, Danvers or Salem or perhaps further south in Boston or Cambridge, saving for retirement is critical. Employers are moving away from contributing to retirement plans or providing pensions, so considering personal finance is more important than ever. Women, who tend to outlive male spouses, should prepare for the future and how much they will need to live on. But, how much will a person need?

commerce-acts-books-477966-mMost financial analysts use the 4% rule to help individuals and couples estimate how much is needed to save for retirement.  Under this rule, you annually look at the total of your liquid assets (exclude your home) and then spend no more than 4% of that amount; and you should outlive your money.  Since returns on investment vary over time, you must rebalance and recalculate the 4% annually.  Following the 4% rule you would have “excellent odds of having enough money for 30 golden years.”  Note, some financial planners now suggest that the 4% rule may no longer work because we are in a period of extended lower return on investment and low interest rates. Also, since women tend to live longer than men, often living more than 30 years after retirement, the 4% rule may not work.

Many of the unique concerns that women deal with correlate with the fact that they usually live longer than men. According to Forbes women outlive men by three or four years on average. Couples often plan for their retirement together and may not consider what will happen to the other spouse if one dies.  Planning this way can cause financial problems for women because they live longer than men. Women have other unique concerns when planning for retirement. Women are more likely than men to plan for their retirement future and potential money problems; while men tend to wait for a problem to arise and then respond to it  So a joint plan may not serve a widow after her spouse is gone.

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Women have unique financial and estate planning issues to consider, as they age. The cities and towns of the North Shore, including Lynnfield, Saugus, Danvers and Wakefield, follow the MA statewide ratio of more women than men.  Also, women tend to marry older spouses and live longer than men, making them three times as likely as men to be widowed at age 65.  Here are some tips in that regard:

  1. Designate someone you trust to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated and assume your spouse is gone;
  2. Consider setting up a trust during your lifetime as it may be an important tool to protect your money, if you need long term care or to smoothly transfer assets after you are gone;
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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. National_Postal_Museum

commerce-acts-books-477966-mWhat’s true for the post office is true for other drivers – cars, trucks and motorcycles. Getting around the North Shore on its highways (Route 93, Route 1, Route 128) or its byways in and around Lynn, Reading, Wakefield, Saugus, Lynnfield or wherever your home town is, means traveling in all sorts of conditions. Getting to and from work, after work socializing, heading to the Garden for a Bruins or Celtics game – wet or snowy weather doesn’t prevent us from our appointed rounds. Getting to the destination safely when visibility is affected by lousy weather may depend on windshield visibility. Visibility is a challenge when it is snowing and from the salt and spray after a storm. Well maintained and clean windshield wipers can help keep the glass clear of snow and ice and help your visibility in snowy conditions. It can prevent a car accident.

Replacing your windshield wiper blades regularly will help keep your windshield clear.  According to JiffyLube, “over time, rubber elements in your windshield wiper blades break down due to oxidation and damage from the sun, becoming stiff and brittle. They also wear out from rubbing back and forth across the glass surface. Eventually, worn windshield wipers leave streaks and blurry spots, affecting your ability to see the road ahead”.  You don’t want to be caught in a winter storm or have impaired vision due to road spray from ineffective windshield wipers.  According to RainX, you should replace your windshield wipers every 6 months to a year or whenever you notice a difference is visibility.  RainX suggests changing your windshield wipers on Groundhog Day as a helpful way to remember to do so.  It also suggests inspecting your wiper blades as part of routine maintenance.