Massachusetts top court strikes down sobriety tests for pot

Posted on September 24th, 2017 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , .

MassachusettsThe Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts issued a unanimous ruling  Sept. 19, voiding court testimony based on "sobriety tests" carried out by police on motorists suspected of driving while high on pot. The Boston Globe reports that in limiting evidence from the familiar roadside tests used to snare drunk drivers—walking in a straight line, standing on one foot—the court found there is no scientific consensus those tests definitively prove someone is under the influence of cannabis.

The court stated that while there is clear scientific evidence that such field sobriety tests can be used to measure blood alcohol content of at least 0.08%, no scientific evidence exists showing a correlation between performance on these tests and "marijuana intoxication."

"Because the effects of marijuana may vary greatly from one individual to another, and those effects are as yet not commonly known," the decision said, "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."

Defendant Thomas Gerhardt was stopped in Millbury in February 2013 by a state trooper for allegedly driving with his lights off. The trooper testified that he saw smoke inside the vehicle and smelled pot, and that Gerhardt acknowledged smoking. Gerhardt was unable to pass the "walk-and-turn" test, the trooper said, and struggled to stand on one foot. The trial has been held up by the dispute over which evidence can be admitted.

D. Rebecca Jacobstein, Gerhardt's attorney, called the ruling a victory over "junk science." She added: "The big take-away here is that for the government to introduce something as science, it actually has to be science."   

This is a real sign of hope, as the question of "marijuana-impaired driving" is widely misunderstood. For instance, it is true that Colorado has seen an increase in road fatalities since legalization in 2012, as well as an increase in cannabis-related driving offenses. But the increase in fatalities is consistent with the national trend, and probably related to low oil prices. A 2011 study found a reduction in traffic fatalities in states that had legalized medical marijuana. This is likely because folks have been turning to legal cannabis instead of alcohol—which impairs driving far more dramatically than pot.

Gov. Charlie Baker last December delayed the implementation of the Bay State's voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative by six months. Licensing of cannabis shops is now set to begin July 1, 2018.

Cross-post to High Times

Image from GreenwhichMeanTime


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