Recently, Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana. While there are many benefits of the drug’s legalization, there is one major issue – Marijuana DUI laws. When marijuana was illegal, anyone with traces of marijuana in their system could face penalties. However, that is no longer the case. The state needs to figure out how to handle a marijuana DUI case. And that is more difficult to do than you might imagine.
What is a Marijuana DUI in Massachusetts?
Currently, there is no easy way to define a marijuana DUI in Massachusetts. In fact, most other states have the same issue. That’s because a DUI requires impairment. Yet, there is no way to determine the level of impairment for marijuana. Police officers can use breath, blood, and urine tests to measure the amount of alcohol in the system of a drunk driver. However, there are no accurate tests for marijuana DUIs.
The Troubles of Testing
Marijuana is unique from alcohol in that it affects your brain. While alcohol circulates in your blood, marijuana does not. Alcohol testing is as simple as measuring the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. But the same testing does not work for marijuana. Instead, researchers need to figure out how to accurately test for marijuana in a drivers body.
The key word is “accurately.” If an officer arrests you for a marijuana DUI, there is a test that he can administer. However, it is not an accurate test. There is little research on the effects of marijuana on a driver. As of now, there is no way to say when I driver is driving impaired. For one, researchers cannot agree on how to measure impairment. Secondly, researchers can’t figure out how to test for impairment. The testing troubles make it very difficult for judges and law enforcement to know how to handle a marijuana DUI.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Weighs In
With so much confusion surrounding the issue of marijuana DUIs, it’s no surprise that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court weighed in on it. After Thomas Gerhardt, a marijuana user and driver failed two failed sobriety tests, the police arrested him. However, his lawyer argued that the field tests did not demonstrate an accurate level of impairment for marijuana use. She claimed that field sobriety tests fail to test for driving impairment. While most marijuana users can’t stand on one leg, they may be sober enough to drive.
In an alcohol-related DUI, a driver would fail one or two field sobriety tests and take a breathalyzer. In court, the police would use both the field sobriety test results and the breathalyzer results to argue impairment. However, there is no test to back up the police officer’s accusations of impairment. This leaves the police officer to be responsible for deciding the driver’s level of impairment. Gerhardt’s lawyer argued that most police officers don’t have the experience to do so.
Before the case went to the state Supreme Court, a lower court agreed that there is no current way to determine impairment in marijuana DUIs. However, new studies have come out since then. Science is starting to catch up to the legalization of marijuana.
Cracking Down on Marijuana DUIs
While it might be a gray area, the state of Massachusetts still wants to crack down on marijuana DUIs. And there may be a good reason for this. Since the legalization of medical marijuana in the state, there have been more marijuana-related accidents on the highway. In other states that legalized recreational marijuana, there were similar findings. For example, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington experienced a 2.7% increase in collisions after the legalization of marijuana. High drivers could have slower reactions to incidents and may have trouble estimating distance or time.
Although the state wants to crack down on this issue, they are doing so by focusing on awareness campaigns. Without accurate tests for impairment, law enforcement can’t do much in the way of prosecuting a marijuana DUI. It all comes down to whether the judges believe an officer when he claims that a driver was impaired.
You could still find yourself facing a drugged driving offense in Massachusetts. If you do, you should be aware of the consequences. A first-time offender could face fines of up to $5000. He may also face a one-year license suspension and imprisonment of as much as 30 months. For second-time offenders, the penalties are even harsher. The fines could cost up to $50,000, and you could lose your license for your lifetime. There’s also a mandatory prison sentence of as many as five years.
Fortunately, it is possible to fight a marijuana DUI charge. It’s a blurry area, and there is no way to say for sure that you were impaired at the time of your arrest. With a good lawyer, you may be able to beat your charges. Don’t hesitate to get the legal representation that you need.