Medical Marijuana and Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Accidents
The recently passed Question 3 on the Massachusetts state ballot should give drivers some pause about the safety of the drug in drivers of motor vehicles. The law that Massachusetts voters approved allows for medical use of marijuana. It allows people who have a medical need to possess a 60 day supply of “medical marijuana” from one of 35 dispensaries in 2013. There is, of course, concern as to how the law will be implemented, and how to keep folks who are not in need medically from the dispensaries.
But the real problem, as we see it, has nothing to do with the legalization of medical marijuana. What someone does in the privacy of their home, without going out is not the issue for a Boston car accident lawyer to review. The problem is that too many people are already using marijuana, and other drugs, driving, and causing injuries.
Marijuana, or rather the THC in marijuana, has an affect on the brain that reduces a person’s response time, balance, coordination, memory and judgment. In an Australian study, following highway fatalities, it was found that if marijuana was present in the blood of the deceased, s/he was most likely also at fault for the accident. And the rate of fault went up as the concentration of THC got higher.
The National Institute of Health’s position on “drugged driving” is that the laws regarding driving under the influence of drugs has “lagged behind alcohol related” driving laws. Some states have passed “per se” laws which are like alcohol laws: they define a percentage of the drug in the body as “per se” a violation of the law. We do not have this in Massachusetts.
Is drugged driving prevalent? According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 10.5 million people reported driving under the influence of drugs in 2009; that is 4.2% of the population surveyed and 12.8% of those between 18 and 25 years old! The number in 2002 was 14.2%, which shows a decrease, but the rate of young drivers remains high. In a Canadian study, drivers who had used marijuana doubled their risk of collision.
So, what is the Massachusetts law? Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 90, Section 24(1)(a)(1) says that you are in violation of the law if you operate a motor vehicle “while under the influence of marijuana, narcotic drugs, depressants or stimulant substances.” As the NIH says, the law is behind the alcohol laws: in Massachusetts, you do not have to submit to any type of test. Thus, it is significantly harder to prove than alcohol testing. A first offense is likely to be license suspension for 45 days and attendance in an abuse counseling class. A second offense could result in up to 30 months incarceration, but also could be a two week in patient treatment program and license suspension of two years.
What can we do? Don’t drink and drive; don’t let others drink and drive. And, now that there is a renewed awareness of the need for marijuana in medical situations, renew your focus on not allowing others to drive while under the influence. The law still forbids that!