Baker refiles marijuana-impaired driving bill
Would give courts tools to penalize drugged driving
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Wednesday announced that he is taking another run at passing a bill to stop people from driving while impaired by marijuana.
Baker said the bill will enhance public safety “by equalizing alcohol and marijuana and giving law enforcement more tools to keep our roads safe from impaired drivers.”
The bill is the same one Baker introduced in 2019, but this time he named it after Trooper Thomas Clardy, a Massachusetts state trooper who was fatally struck by a driver who had THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, in his blood. Baker announced the bill at a press conference at Worcester District Court.
Clardy’s widow, Reisa Clardy, said at the press conference that the bill “will improve roadway safety and prevent another senseless tragedy, another family torn apart by the loss of a loved one.”
Part of the problem, however, is there is no reliable test for marijuana impairment in the same way as there is a breathalyzer test for alcohol. A blood or saliva test can detect THC, but the tests generally cannot determine when someone ingested THC and if they are currently impaired. The police often combine chemical tests with field sobriety tests done by a specially trained drug recognition officer, in which a driver is asked to do certain tasks. Critics of Baker’s plan have said penalties should not be levied on someone who refuses to take a test when the technology is not yet good enough to accurately detect impairment.
That bill would also direct the municipal police training committee to expand training of drug recognition officers, and would allow the officers to testify as experts in court.
Another provision would extend open container laws, which prohibit someone from having an open container of alcohol in a car, to marijuana, prohibiting someone from having a loose or unsealed package of marijuana in their car.
The bill would let the police seek a search warrant from a magistrate electronically to authorize a blood draw to detect for marijuana impairment. This would speed up the process since the officer would not have to appear in person in court. The blood draw would have to be done by a health care practitioner.
The bill would establish new educational materials and programming for Trial Court judges, and would set standards allowing judges to accept as a fact that marijuana impairs driving.The bill’s provisions were taken from the recommendations of a special committee that examined issues around operating under the influence related to marijuana legalization. “I don’t know why the legislation hasn’t found its way back to my desk, especially since the commission was established by the Legislature,” Baker said.
Mary Maguire, director of legislative affairs at AAA Northeast, said one-third of roadway deaths nationally involve someone driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently found that 56 percent of drivers who were seriously or fatally injured in a crash tested positive for at least one substance.