The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that field sobriety tests normally used in drunk driving cases cannot be used as concrete evidence to prove a driver was operating under the influence of cannabis.
Because both the physical and cognitive effects of weed vary from person to person, the higher court deemed that a police officer does not have the right to determine whether or not a motorist is “high” upon testing the subject.
“Because the effects of marijuana may vary greatly from one individual to another, and those effects are as yet not commonly known, neither a police officer nor a lay witness who has not been qualified as an expert may offer an opinion as to whether a driver was under the influence of marijuana,” the court explained.
Unlike alcohol, police are not qualified to access whether or not the driver is definitively high.
While police officers cannot deem whether or not the subject was under the influence of marijuana based on traditional sobriety tests or their own formulated opinion, they can, however, testify to certain “roadside assessments”. These include observations of typical symptoms such as bloodshot eyes, drowsiness, a strong odor of marijuana, slow or erratic driving and lack of coordination, but it does not take into accountability drug detection times, which vary based on a variety of factors.
The court added that it will be up to the jury to determine whether or not the individual in question was under the influence of weed after reviewing the officer’s roadside assessments.
“Jurors are permitted to utilize their common sense in assessing trial evidence,” the court explained.
Final Hit: Court Rules Field Sobriety Tests Unreliable for Marijuana Detection
However, Massachusetts justices admitted there is no reliable scientific test for marijuana impairment at the moment, making it difficult to assess on a case-by-case basis.
Martin Healey, the Chief Legal Counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association also admitted as much and ceded that the court’s decision makes it increasingly arduous to make a definitive ruling on a subject’s level of impairment.
“[the decison] does continue to tie the Commonwealth’s hands and police officers’ hands in evaluating and testifying in court regarding someone operating under the influence of marijuana,” Healey said to WBZ NewsRadio 1030.
Massachusetts has also made news recently in an effort to restrict the sale of recreational cannabis, despite voting in favor of it less than one year ago. Over 100 municipalities have already levied bans, zoning restrictions or moratoriums on recreational weed business, and that number could increase depending on a Tuesday vote.
Regardless of the result, it appears as if Massachusetts is making its best attempt at regulating the legal cannabis industry, both on the road and off.