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Massachusetts overturns field sobriety testing for marijuana

Marijuana laws are changing, including here in Pennsylvania. The state passed legislation allowing medicinal marijuana, as have 28 other states. A few others have decriminalized the drug on a higher scale.

There are new legal challenges as marijuana becomes more socially acceptable, like how to address drivers suspected of being high. Unlike alcohol, there is no breath test to prove use at a traffic stop. Marijuana hinders judgment and reaction time, and police are actively looking for impaired drivers. When can officers stop a driver and how can they test for use?

Assessments, not tests

As with any new law, it takes time to implement the best system. In Massachusetts, the state Supreme Court has ruled that a field sobriety test is insufficient evidence. While the test itself was invalidated, its results may stand in court under the right circumstances.

The key takeaway is that field sobriety testing lacks scientific evidence that it measures the level of marijuana intoxication. This has been proven for alcohol, but the effects of marijuana are different. The court didn’t dismiss the roadside observations entirely, though.

Instead, officers in Massachusetts can still require roadside exercises, but must refer to them as assessments rather than a pass or fail test. If the officer notes balance, coordination or mental awareness inconsistencies, these notes are admissible as evidence of intoxication.

Empirical evidence and individual rights

Legal medicinal marijuana use will take effect in Pennsylvania next year, though the political climate is murky. As states adjust to changing drug laws and ongoing concerns about the traffic safety, drugged driving is certain to be in the public eye.

Due process is at the core of any legal matter. All drivers have the right to a trial that considers empirical evidence and individual rights. If you’ve been accused of driving under the influence, an attorney can help you investigate the case to make sure the stop, search and arrest were legal. In a traffic stop, just as with any other case, officers need to follow certain procedures to protect your rights throughout the process.

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