Marijuana-Impaired Driving Is The Focus Of Massachusetts Commission

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Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan

With recreational marijuana sales becoming legal for adults in Massachusetts next month, the state is anticipating an increase in people driving while high.

The Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving met for the first time Wednesday to discuss possible ways to prevent such a rise. The commission is required by state law.

The initial meeting produced more questions than answers, the top being: “How can we test people for being high while also not infringing on their civil liberties?”

The 13-member commission is chaired by the executive director of the Cannabis Control Commission, and includes lawyers, police officials and doctors.

Matt Allen, with the ACLU of Massachusetts, said his presence on the commission is to make sure rights aren’t violated.

He said in other states with recreational marijuana, there have been cases where marijuana stays in someone’s body days after they’ve consumed the drug.

“We want to make sure that kind of test doesn’t result in people being criminalized,” Allen said. “Particularly medical marijuana patients who may be marijuana users but may not be intoxicated.”

Last fall, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that field sobriety tests are not conclusive evidence of marijuana intoxication.

Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael said his officers conduct what’s now called a roadside assessment. He said it’s essentially a field sobriety test, officers just can’t use words like “test” or “fail” when testifying in court.

Carmichael said his department doesn’t force drivers to take the assessment.

In future meetings, the commission will look at what other states with similar marijuana laws have done, and come up with potential solutions to prevent people from getting behind the wheel while high.

The group has to have a report ready for the state Legislature by January 2019.

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