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Legal marijuana and OUI charges

Next month will mark the first anniversary of legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, and the commonwealth is still adjusting to the changes the new law brought. One area where the authorities are still trying to figure out how to work with the new law is in its approach to marijuana-impaired driving.

In many ways, OUI laws apply equally whether the substance involved is alcohol or pot.

Just as it is illegal for a driver to have an open bottle of beer in the car, it is against the law for a driver to have an open container of marijuana, such as a package with its seal broken, in the passenger area of the car. Drivers who are found to be too intoxicated to drive safely can face the same penalties whether they are found to have been under the influence of alcohol or marijuana.

The big difference in these cases lies in how the police test drivers for signs of intoxication. There is no marijuana equivalent to the Breathalyzer device police commonly employ to test a driver's blood alcohol concentration. Likewise, there is no so-called legal limit of THC that can be found in a person's blood, beyond which the person can be presumed intoxicated.

Instead, police rely on nonchemical factors to gather evidence. Police pull over drivers when they see signs of impaired driving, such as swerving between lanes. Once they are speaking to the driver, they look for signs such as red eyes, or the smell of marijuana. They may also ask the driver to answer questions or perform simple tasks that can help establish evidence of intoxication.

Attacking the evidence is a big part of any defense strategy for people accused of OUI. A skilled defense attorney can help the accused fight for their freedom and their driving privileges.

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