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Baker-Polito Administration Files Legislation on Impaired Driving

Jan 30, 2019 06:26AM

Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito

BOSTON – Governor Charlie Baker today filed legislation to implement the recommendations made by the Cannabis Control Commission’s Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving. The Special Commission was an important part of the 2017 legislation to legalize recreational marijuana and was comprised of a diverse set of stakeholders and experts, including police, prosecutors, medical and toxicological professionals, and representatives of the criminal defense bar and the civil liberties community.
 
“Today’s proposal includes important changes that will make Massachusetts safer and improve how police officers train for detecting the influence of intoxicating substances like marijuana, how they interact with  motorists who show signs of impairment, and eventually how these cases are tried in a courtroom,” said Governor Baker. “Our administration views these improvements as the next deliberative step for the Commonwealth and the Cannabis Control Commission to continue implementing the legalization of recreational marijuana safely and responsibly and we look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature to pass this bill into law.”
 
“We commend the members of the Special Commission for their careful review and thoughtful recommendations on the very serious public safety concerns associated with impaired driving,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “Passing these recommendations into law will raise awareness about the dangers of driving under the influence of any intoxicating substance and lead to safer roads in communities across the Commonwealth.”
 
The Special Commission recently released a report containing a series of recommendations, many of them unanimous, to improve how Massachusetts combats operating under the influence. The proposed adjustments encompass the entire process leading up to, during and following a motor vehicle stop for suspected driving under the influence. Many of the Special Commission’s 19 recommendations require legislative changes, which are reflected in “An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Special Commission on Operating under the Influence and Impaired Driving.” The proposed legislative changes in this bill include: 
  • Adopting implied consent laws to suspend the driver’s licenses of arrested motorists who refuse to cooperate in chemical testing for drugs, as existing law has long required for arrested motorists who refuse breath testing for alcohol;
  • Adopting a statute authorizing courts to take judicial notice that ingesting THC, the active chemical in marijuana, can and does impair motorists;
  • Directing the Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) to expand the training of drug recognition experts, and allowing them to testify as expert witnesses in civil and criminal cases;
  • Prohibiting drivers from having loose or unsealed packages of marijuana in the driver’s compartment of a vehicle, under the same provision of the motor vehicle code that has long prohibited driving with open containers of alcohol;
  • Recognizing the effectiveness of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, shown through scientific research to be the single most reliable field sobriety test;  
  • Empowering police officers to seek electronic search warrants for evidence of chemical intoxication, as is the practice in over thirty other states.  Any blood draw would have to be authorized by a neutral magistrate after a showing of probable cause, and would be performed by a doctor, nurse or other appropriate medical staff at a health care facility;
  • Developing educational materials and programming on drug impairment to share with trial court judges.     
“These changes will help to bring Massachusetts into parity and ensure that the Commonwealth can protect its people from drivers who are high, just like we have long tried to protect our people from drivers who are impaired from alcohol,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Thomas Turco.
 
“I am pleased to see that Governor Baker has filed legislation to implement the recommendations of the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving,” said Jennifer L. Flanagan, Commissioner of the Cannabis Control Commission. “This legislation is yet another example of Governor Baker’s commitment of providing public safety officials the tools necessary to keep our communities safe. I commend the Governor on his leadership and look forward to working with him as Massachusetts continues to regulate the adult use of marijuana in a responsible manner.”
 
“With the legalization of adult use marijuana establishments here in the Commonwealth since 2016 and with the recent approval by the Cannabis Control Commission of new licensees this past fall, it is absolutely essential that police officers stand ready to address the potential dangers posed by some motorists who choose to operate a motor vehicle while impaired after consuming marijuana,” said Brian Kyes, Chelsea Police Chief and President of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs. “These proposals offered by the Special Commission, many in the form of an important public safety bill filed by Governor Baker, ensure that state and local police officers will be equipped with the proper tools and required training to identify and detect impaired operators to keep our roadways safe.”
 
“With the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts, impaired driving has become a real issue for law enforcement to tackle. Innocent people are being injured and even killed in crashes involving impaired operators,” said Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz. “I commend the Baker-Polito Administration for implementing the Special Commission to study operating under the influence and impaired driving and filing this legislation to help law enforcement ensure the safety of citizens on our roads.”
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