Well, it’s official. On December 15th, 2016, Massachusetts will join a growing chorus of states and legalize recreational marijuana use. The new law will have an impact on Massachusetts in many ways, both good and bad, not the least of which will be the number of people driving under the influence of marijuana, and the potential for accidents that goes along with it.
Details Of The New Law
As reported by Boston Magazine, there was some question of whether the votes from November’s election would be certified in time for the law to go into effect before the end of the year. Voters approved the ballot measure 53-46.
Under the new law, marijuana use and possession will be legal, with a few restrictions:
- Buying and selling marijuana will still be illegal, but you can give it away free of charge.
- You must be 21 years of age to use it.
- Public use will be illegal.
- 10 ounces will be allowed in your private residence, but only one ounce can be in your possession in public.
- Growing marijuana will be legal, up to 12 plants for each household, as long as they’re out of sight.
- In an automobile, marijuana must be kept in the trunk or inside a locked glove compartment.
Why Should You Be Concerned About Marijuana-Impaired Driving?
Though the new law will be a boon to marijuana entrepreneurs and to state and municipal coffers as soon as new regulations governing retail operations are drafted, there is some concern about the downside to legal weed, especially the potential increase in impaired driving.
A recent fatal accident in Suffolk County highlighted the dangers of driving while under the influence of marijuana. A driver with both a high blood alcohol content and high levels of THC in his system crashed into a Logan Airport shuttle bus, killing two passengers. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the ingredient in marijuana that causes intoxication.
A Call To Action
Massachusetts has no clear law for addressing marijuana-impaired driving. County district attorney Daniel Conley said, “Cases like this one speak to the urgency with which lawmakers should address marijuana-impaired driving. It’s a proven fact that driving under the influence of marijuana is every bit as dangerous as it is for alcohol, but unlike alcohol, we don’t yet have a way to quantify a driver’s impairment from marijuana. Massachusetts has neither an established impairment level nor an effective means to test for one. Policymakers should be aware of this knowledge gap and take steps to bridge it if we expect to identify and prevent THC impairment among drivers.”
So what are the true risks from drivers operating a vehicle under the influence of weed? A look at the experiences of one state can give some insight.
What Has Been Colorado’s Experience With Marijuana-Impaired Driving?
Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 in 2012, legalizing recreational and medical marijuana use as well as production and retail operations. However, due to regulatory delays, the law wasn’t implemented until 2014.
The measure has proven to be an economic windfall for the state, resulting in a total impact of over $2.39 billion in 2015 alone, along with a significant increase in new jobs.
It’s been estimated that at least one in eight Colorado residents over the age of 12 have smoked pot recently, and millions more who travel there as ‘pot-tourists’ each year also consume while visiting. This has led, perhaps predictably, to a significant increase in the number of people driving while high.
According to statistics compiled by the Colorado Department of Transportation, although there has been a decrease in auto accident fatalities of 25% since 2005, the number of fatal accidents involving a drugged or marijuana-impaired driver has climbed 79% over the same time period.
Ignorance Of The Law
Although the penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana in Colorado can be severe, possibly resulting in a DUI conviction and fines of more than $10,000, as well as time in jail, many drivers are unaware of the laws governing pot use and driving.
Even after a widely publicized awareness campaign called “Drive High, Get A DUI”, 21% of drivers surveyed didn’t know they could get in trouble for driving while high on pot.
Clearly, one of the pitfalls of legalizing marijuana is that many residents will have the impression that there are no limits on its use, and they can consume anywhere and at anytime, even while driving.
What If Someone Is High And Hits You?
Although the laws in Massachusetts concerning drivers that are impaired from marijuana use need further consideration and definition from the legislature, if you are in an accident caused by such a driver you may be entitled to significant compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, loss of mobility and quality of life, and other damages. It’s important that you retain the services of an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure that your rights are protected.
Peter Ventura has almost three decades of personal injury experience. Contact him today for a free and confidential consultation.