EDITORIAL: Education First Step to End Stoned Driving
No matter how many times supporters of the state’s recreational marijuana law trumpet its benefits, that statute’s Achilles heel repeatedly resurfaces, highlighting the law’s basic flaw and the attempts to close this serious public-safety loophole.
The latest initiative out of Beacon Hill, which carries the support of both the governor and House speaker, involves passing new laws targeting marijuana-impaired drivers, based on the findings of the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving.
That panel has called for mandatory blood and saliva tests of suspected pot-using drivers -- under penalty of license suspension.
That would require a rewrite of the current Operating Under the Influence laws; then police could determine “beyond a reasonable doubt” whether a drugged driver was under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in pot, the panel concluded.
In the rush to legalize recreational pot -- passed by referendum and refined by the Legislature -- and cash in on its revenue, no one seemed especially concerned that a definitive method of detecting impaired marijuana motorists didn’t exist.
That’s why, more than two years after its passing, lawmakers and law enforcement are still scrambling to find a solution.
While well-intentioned, this latest effort still seems mired in the inability to differentiate between drunken and drugged driving.
It’s been established that THC remains in the blood stream far longer than its incapacitating effects, thus rendering such tests inconclusive or misleading.
And we’re not sure if this blood and saliva testing will pass the state Supreme Judicial Court’s muster. In a 2017 ruling, that court said field sobriety tests typically used in drunken-driving cases cannot be treated as conclusive evidence that a motorist was operating under the influence of marijuana.
So we don’t see how this new effort advances our ability to gauge a person’s level of pot impairment.
According to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Massachusetts has approximately 150 personnel certified as drug recognition officers and 1,402 trained in advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement. Even those officers versed in drug recognition have only a trained eye on which to rely.
We don’t disagree with the EOPSS, which has indicated this stoned-driver problem has reached a crisis level. According to its own figures, an average of 10 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes from 2012 to 2016 had both alcohol and drugs in their system, with marijuana being the most prevalent. The presence of marijuana since the issuing of that report no doubt has risen significantly.
And not all pot products are created equally. Mary McGuire, director of public affairs for AAA Northeast and a member of the special commission, alluded to the dangers of driving after eating a cannabis-laced candy or snack product, since their delayed reaction may give a motorist a false sense of security.
Until the discovery of a more scientific measure of pot impairment, we urge public-safety officials to actively pursue one of the special panel’s other suggestions -- educating the public on the dangers of driving while high. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers stoned on marijuana demonstrate slower reaction times, sleepiness and more difficulty estimating time and distance.