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Marijuana and Driving in Massachusetts


Not long ago marijuana was an illegal controlled substance in Massachusetts. First came “medical marijuana” and now we have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Marijuana possession once led to arrest and criminal charges. Now, thanks to democratic process, in most cases it is not a violation of state law to possess marijuana in Massachusetts. This change reflects a softening of anti-drug measures. For example, as part of the “war on drugs,” the Registry of Motor Vehicles would automatically suspend driver’s licenses of those convicted of drug offenses. That requirement was recently changed so that most drug convictions do not automatically result in license suspensions.

The legalization of marijuana will undoubtedly lead to an increase in DUI drug cases and motor vehicle accidents caused by drivers who were under the influence of marijuana. It is still a crime to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana and that does not mean that you have to be totally “stoned” to be convicted. All that is required is that your capacity to operate is diminished by having ingested marijuana, which still remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.

There is currently no accepted standardized field sobriety evaluation for marijuana like there is for alcohol. Likewise, there is no effective roadside scientific test to reliably and accurately determine THC concentration in the bloodstream. These limitations might make DUI marijuana cases difficult to prosecute.

However, I predict that drivers who are found to be impaired by marijuana will have their licenses indefinitely revoked pursuant to G.L. c. 90 § 22(a), the Massachusetts Immediate Threat law. This statute allows the Registry of Motor Vehicles to summarily revoke the license or right to operate of a person who has recently acted in such a manner as to be a threat to the public safety. Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana would seem to trigger this type of revocation. If this happens, my advice is to get a blood test as soon as possible to show the level of THC in your bloodstream.

If your license is revoked, you have the right to a hearing before a Registry Hearings Officer and you have the right to be represented by counsel. You also have the right to appear before the Board of Appeal of the Division of Insurance. This quasi-judicial Board has the “overreaching authority to affirm, modify, or annul any decision of the Registry.”

Please think twice before getting behind the wheel under the influence of marijuana. It is still a crime to drive while high and it could result in the loss of your driver’s license.

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