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Impaired Driving

Under the current law in Massachusetts, marijuana may be legally prescribed by a doctor to the patient. There are more than 12,000 people in the Commonwealth who are allowed, under State law, to purchase the drug. Yet it remains a defined controlled substance, illegal under federal Law.  To seek State approval to acquire marijuana for medical purposes, one must meet with a MA State certified doctor who has been approved for prescribing the drug. There are about 108 approved doctors statewide. The nearest marijuana distribution center serving the North Shore, including the cities and towns of Lynn, Lynnfield, Danvers and Peabody, is in Salem and there is an application pending for a second dispensary in Saugus.

commerce-acts-books-477966-mTo get started you select a clinic or approved Doctor. You must have a “debilitating condition”, for example anxiety or chronic pain, and the certifying Doctor must agree that you will benefit from medical cannabis. You will then get a PIN and a logon and can register in the state’s gateway.  Next is a 15 step process through the gateway to formally register. Once approved you will get a card in the mail and can then go to the dispensary for your medication. https://www.boston.com/culture/health/2015/09/23/how-to-get-medical-marijuana-in-massachusetts

This November a ballot question seeks to expand marijuana use to legalize it for recreation purposes.   The Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Question 4 is on the November 8, 2016 ballot in Massachusetts as an indirect initiated state statute.

  “yes” vote supports this proposal to legalize marijuana, but regulate it similar to alcoholic beverages.
“no” vote opposes this proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, keeping only medical marijuana legal.[1]

If ballot question 4 is passed and then becomes law, individuals over twenty one years old will be allowed to grow, possess and use marijuana (subject to Federal law).  https://ballotpedia.org/Massachusetts_Marijuana_Legalization,_Question_4_(2016)

According to experts, this may have a significant effect on automobile safety, accidents and personal injuries. “Marijuana use in driving is a growing, contributing factor to fatal crashes,” said Jake Nelson, the director of traffic safety advocacy and research at the American Automobile Association (AAA) said. “It’s a highway safety problem that we should all be concerned about.” http://www.livescience.com/54693-high-drivers-double-after-marijuana-legalization.html

Studies have shown that in those states where marijuana has become legal, the number of drivers who had traces of marijuana in their blood and were involved in fatal accidents, has doubled. More research needs to be done to determine if there is a safe level of THC in the blood stream, what will be defined as impaired driving, and how to accurately and fairly test the level to protect society, yet respect privacy and prevent unwarranted searches.

Blood level of alcohol is an accurate measure of impairment and with properly calibrated equipment or a blood test, can be reliably measured. The state is able to define limits for acceptable levels of blood alcohol and when one is impaired. Unfortunately the same is not true for defining or measuring impairment with marijuana (THC).

Alcohol and THC are different drugs, each of which react in the body differently. To try to use breath test or blood test similar to the one that measures blood alcohol content will not yield accurate information as to driving impaired, or not, under THC. Currently, in states that have legalized marijuana, authorities are using a combination of field sobriety tests, blood tests and evidence from drug impairment experts to identify and define drivers who are impaired by THC. A growing body of thought is to reverse the burden once THC is found in the blood system. It would require the driver accused of operating impaired, to prove that he was not. This would be a dramatic shift in burden and raise potential issues of constitutionality.

The outcome of ballot question 4 may have a significant impact on safe driving and auto accidents and injuries in the years to come.