This is a subject we’ve tackled here before, but as more and more states approve either medical or recreational marijuana use it’s going to keep coming up. If people can legally partake in the use of the drug, how does law enforcement deal with suspected impaired drivers? There may be similar issues for people attempting to drive while drunk or stoned, but the medical science behind determining who is “too high” is far behind our ability to supposedly detect who is “too drunk” to drive. Massachusetts tasked a state commission with coming up with an answer and it doesn’t look like they’ve done a very good job. (Boston Globe)
Drivers suspected of being high who refuse police demands to take a drug test should lose their license for six months, the same penalty as alleged drunk drivers who decline a breathalyzer, a state commission on impaired driving said Friday.
Motorists who show signs of drug impairment should face an automatic license suspension if they refuse a blood test, a saliva test, or a 12-step evaluation that includes a urine test, the commission decided.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say to [an allegedly impaired] driver, ‘If you want the privilege of driving in Massachusetts, you have to participate in a noninvasive test,’ ” said John Scheft, an attorney appointed by Attorney General Maura Healey.
This is no different than the rules for drunk driving arrests in the majority of states. The commission is suggesting that if a police officer believes you’ve shown signs of being impaired and you refuse to take some sort of screening test for marijuana use, you should automatically have your license suspended for six months.
The problem, as the commission noted in its findings, is that there is no medical test available to measure the amount of THC in your body and correlate that to how stoned you are and how impaired you might be. Further, scientists working in that field believe it will be anywhere from three to five years before such a test might be on the market.
The bottom line here is that marijuana stays in your system for weeks or months but you may only be stoned enough to be impaired for a few hours, depending on how much you’ve put in our system. So you could be completely sober and still “fail” a blood or saliva test for THC. If you had a moment of distraction, were a bit sleepy or for any other reason allowed your car to weave over the centerline for a moment, the police could ask you to take a test that you know you would fail. If you refuse, your license may be gone for six months without having done anything illegal.
The commission is saying they recognize this fact, but the refusal to take a screening test would only be “one of several factors” the court would consider. Pardon me if that doesn’t sound very comforting to the person who has an overworked public defender representing them in court. This is a complicated issue and we definitely don’t want totally stoned people operating a vehicle any more than blind drunk drivers. But this doesn’t sound like a solution that should stand up in court if someone challenges it.