New DUI Marijuana Court Ruling

With the legalization of Marijuana by the Massachusetts Legislature as a result of a referendum ballot question, there have been many changes in the law and some of those law changes impact Massachusetts Hardship Licenses as well as suspensions and revocations. Medical Marijuana is low legal in Massachusetts and the Registry of Motor Vehicles no longer suspends licenses for certain drug convictions such as possession of marijuana, even if the conviction entered prior to legalization.

The highest court in Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court, recently issued a major ruling regarding the crime of Operating Under the Influence of Marijuana. In a DUI Drugs Trial, a police officer who is not qualified as an expert witness cannot legally testify that the driver was under the influence of marijuana or that the consumption of the marijuana impacted the driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

In Mass. DUI drugs trials, law enforcement officers cannot refer to roadside assessment as field sobriety tests and failing these tests does not mean that the defendant was sufficiently impaired by marijuana to diminish his or her ability to drive safely.

The Mass. SJC also ruled that only an expert witness can testify that a person was “high” on marijuana. A police officer can testify as to observations but not that those observations necessarily mean that the driver was under the influence of marijuana.

Drug recognition experts can still testify regarding their opinions and observations. However, police officers who have not been trained, testified, and certified as drug recognition experts will not be allowed to testify as to their opinions.

Given these legal restrictions, obtaining convictions for Operating under the Influence of Drugs will likely be more difficult. This may encourage police officers to suspend driver’s licenses by using the immediate threat law.