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Massachusetts May Outlaw Driving with an Open Container of Cannabis

The state commission recommends penalties for drivers refusing drug tests and for having open containers of pot. The jury’s still out on salvia testing.

Massachusetts May Outlaw Driving With an Open Container of Cannabis
Ben Harding/ Shutterstock

Massachusetts’ Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving issued a report on Wednesday recommending that those who refuse roadside drug tests should have their license suspended for six months– the same punishment for drivers who turn down breathalyzer tests. The report will be delivered to the Massachusetts legislature to be considered in the state’s ongoing law-making process.

The commission was established by Massachusetts’ recently passed cannabis laws, which resulted in $2 million in sales within less than a week of operation. The group’s members are attorneys, law enforcement officials, human rights advocates, and other professionals associated with cannabis policy. Their main tasks are to examine drug test techniques, drivers’ rights, determine court-admissible evidence, testing costs, police burden, and other issues.

Another recommendation put forward by the commission was an “open container” law similar to that of alcohol. It would foist a $500 fine on anyone caught driving with an unsealed cannabis product container in the car. “You give out a few $500 tickets, I’m not saying people won’t do weed, but they won’t do it in a car,” said John Scheft, an attorney member of the commission.

The commission unanimously approved the suggestion, though there were some questions about how it would be carried out. Jennifer Queally, Massachusetts’ undersecretary for law enforcement, pointed out that the issue goes beyond smoking while driving.

“We’ve all seen people smoking a joint at the red light next to us, and clearly that’s open container,” she said. “But then the question gets what about the edibles, what about some of the oils?”

Other members of the commission suggested that an open bag of marijuana could well be left over from weeks before.

Additional recommendations included in the commission’s report highlighted streamlining and standardizing the drug test warrant process, training police officers to identify drivers under the influence of cannabis, and the promotion of more drug recognition experts; who, currently, are not allowed to testify as court witnesses. The commission suggested changing that law and providing a certification process to help police accurately identify drug impairment among drivers. The group was still undecided on whether salvia tests should be court-admissible evidence.

Issues of driving while under the influence of cannabis has long presented a problem for lawmakers. The inexactitude of pinpointing when cannabis was consumed via saliva, blood, and urine tests has made for shaky legal reckonings.

Massachusetts isn’t the only place figuring out how to navigate the relationship between cannabis consumption and driving. Months after its sweeping federal-level legalization, Canada changed its laws to allow police officers to test drivers for impairment at any lawful traffic stop. This is a change from previous policy, which said that officers had to have probable cause to require such a test.

The change comes after many Canadian police officials failed to note many overall changes in driver behavior after federal legislation. In fact, while Toronto seemed to be tracking slightly higher on drug-impaired car accidents, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and Quebec were all seeing lower numbers in the year that legalization took place.

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