Recreational cannabis has been legal in Massachusetts for several years, and, with new dispensaries opening up soon, it seems to be more commonplace. What once was an illegal, clandestine activity is now done out in the open. However, it’s important to remember that the law still prohibits operating a motor vehicle under the influence of cannabis or other drugs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cannabis is the second most common drug linked to operating under the influence. Only alcohol is more common. Studies show THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis, affects a person’s coordination, balance, memory and judgment, which can make them unsafe drivers.
For the purposes of OUI law, Massachusetts treats cannabis very much the way it treats alcohol. Even a first offense can lead to a sentence of 30 months on house arrest, a fine of up to $5,000 and up to a year of suspended driving privileges.
But first, the police have to establish that the driver was under the influence of cannabis. This is not always easy for them. There has been a lot of controversy this year over the chemical breath test devices Massachusetts police use to establish a driver’s blood alcohol concentration, but after a temporary suspension, these so-called Breathalyzer devices are back in use, and provide evidence for prosecution.
So far, there is no widely available, highly reliable, breath-based device that can measure THC intoxication. Instead, prosecutors establish THC intoxication by other evidence, such as the driver’s own statements, statements by police who said they smelled cannabis smoke or saw the driver’s eyes were red, the presence of drug paraphernalia and more.
As evidence, these can all be compelling to a jury. However, they aren’t necessarily reliable. A good OUI defense attorney can help a jury see the flaws in the evidence used against a client, and in the prosecution’s version of events.