Governor Charlie Baker Introduces Legislation to Address “Drugged Driving”
Massachusetts was one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2016. However, with marijuana legalization came accidents resulting from driving while high. To address is this issue, governor Baker announced a legislative proposal that would update Massachusetts’s road safety laws. The legislation is named for State Trooper Thomas Clardy, who was killed when a driver high on marijuana crashed into his car.
This new bill would adopt the recommendations of the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving by revoking someone’s license for six months if they are suspected of operating under the influence and marijuana and refuse to take a chemical test for impairment. Additionally, the bill would prohibit drivers from having loose or open packages of marijuana in their cars. This new bill would treat marijuana much like alcohol for driving purposes. Currently, if someone is charged with OUI drugs, a police officer will typically file an immediate threat suspension which takes the person off of the road for an average of nine months to one year and requires the person to completely a substance abuse evaluation.
Operating a vehicle under the influence of any drug or alcohol is already a crime in Massachusetts, however, this bill suspends an individual’s license if they are merely suspected of being high and refuse to take a test.
Law enforcement supports this bill, but advocates behind marijuana legalization argue that marijuana impacts people differently and it can remain detectable in the body for a long time even after its effects have worn off. Other criticisms of the bill include concerns that the bill is based on unscientific police tactics that would lead to profiling based on race and age, resulting in police abuse.
Another feature of the bill is that it would allow police officers trained as “drug recognition experts” to testify as an expert witnesses at trial. This portion of the bill introduces a whole slew of issues regarding the reliability of the testimony. And, unlike alcohol, there is not a device currently in use that can prove marijuana impairment. Development of a breathalyzer-like device for marijuana could be years away.
The proposed legislation attempt to require Court to accept DRE testimony as reliable which would infringe on the right of due process and the authority of the Court to ensure that reliable evidence is heard in Court.
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