Massachusetts Criminal Laws on Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

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Massachusetts criminalizes the act of driving while under the influence of marijuana. Likewise, it is illegal to drive a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or under the impairment of a combination of substances, such as marijuana and alcohol. Understanding the state laws prohibiting this conduct is an essential component to defending oneself against these charges.

Impaired Driving Prohibitions

Massachusetts prohibits drivers from driving with a blood alcohol concentration that is above 0.08 percent. If a driver is found to have a blood alcohol concentration at or above this level, the driver is presumptively under the influence. However, if an illegal substance like marijuana is involved, the positive finding of any amount of the substance establishes that the driver was under the influence at the time of the stop.

Penalties for Impaired Driving

The penalty for driving while impaired are based on the previous history of the defendant. For a first offense, the penalty includes up to 30 months of house arrest, driverís license suspension for up to one year and a fine between $500 and $1,000. The judge has the discretion instead to order drug and alcohol education or treatment and a license suspension between 45 and 90 days.

A second conviction corresponds to a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail with the potential for being sentenced up to 30 months. The fine can be anywhere between $600 and $10,000. The defendant loses his or her driving privileges for up to two years. The judge may order the defendant into an impatient drug and alcohol treatment or probation.

A third conviction results in a mandatory minimum of 150 days in jail with the potential to be imprisoned for up to five years. His or her driverís license may be suspended for up to eight years. The fine imposed can be between $1,000 and $15,000.

A fourth conviction results in a mandatory minimum jail time of one year with up to five years. The driving privileges are lost for ten years. The fine is anywhere between $1,500 and $25,000. A fifth or subsequent conviction results in a mandatory sentence of two years with up to five years imprisonment and a fine between $2,000 and $50,000. The defendantís license is suspended for life.

Difficulties of Testing for Impairment

Field sobriety tests have long been used to test motorists for impairment when alcohol has been consumed. Although these tests are widely challenged in DUI and OUI cases, they are traditional tests that continue to be used today. Likewise, the Breathalyzer test is used to determine if there is alcohol in the driverís breath. However, there is not an equivalent chemically based test to measure the level of marijuana in a personís system. The unique characteristics of marijuana make it difficult to test for this chemical. THC dissolves in fat and not in water like alcohol does. This means that the compounds in marijuana are stored in the bodyís fatty cells and remain there for an extended period of time, often long after the driver is no longer under the influence of the drug.

Studies have shown that THC affects different people differently and in different degrees. People who regularly smoke marijuana may have significant concentrations of marijuana in their bloodstream. This can cause them to test positive for marijuana while driving even if they have not recently smoked or consumed marijuana. Additionally, some people can receive a contact high when other people are smoking, meaning that they may test positive for marijuana even if they did not use the drug. Even if a test similar to a Breathalyzer was created, it could only reasonably test for smoke and not for edibles that the driver consumed.

Evidence Against Impaired Drivers

The prosecution may use a variety of evidence to establish that a driver was impaired, including the results of field sobriety tests, the officerís observations who pulled the driver over and history working around people who are under the influence of drugs. Criminal defense lawyers who are hired to represent the interests of their clients should work to contest this type of information to protect the clientís legal interests.

Criminal defense lawyers who have an extensive history in challenging the results of a field sobriety test are particularly equipped to handle these types of cases. Additional education in chemical analysis and forensics can further aid these lawyers in zealously representing their clients who are facing serious drug charges such as DUI or OUI in Pennsylvania.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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