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What You Need to Know About Operating Under the Influence of Marijuana in Massachusetts

Posted on June 7, 2022 in

Marijuana for medical and recreational use has been fully legal in Massachusetts for several years. The legalization of cannabis, however, has led to some confusion regarding Massachusetts’ operating under the influence (OUI) laws. You could technically drive while smoking marijuana and not be committing a crime, for example, but you can get an OUI if you are impaired by the substance. Here’s what you need to know to navigate this gray area of Commonwealth law.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana Is Illegal in All 50 States

You cannot operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, narcotic drugs, depressants or stimulant substances, according to Massachusetts General Laws Section 24.(1)(a)(1). This law states that driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance is punishable by a fine of $500 to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 2.5 years. These penalties will increase if there are aggravating circumstances, such as a car accident caused by an intoxicated driver or a repeat offender.

Medical or Legal Marijuana Is No Exception

It does not matter if the substance that impaired you is legal in your state. Massachusetts’ legalization of medical and recreational marijuana for people over the age of 21 did not legalize operating a motor vehicle while impaired by this substance. While you may lawfully be able to purchase, possess and use marijuana under state law, it is still a crime to drive while impaired or intoxicated by marijuana to any level.

Massachusetts’ ban on operating under the influence includes marijuana that you have been prescribed by your doctor for a medical condition. Just as other prescription drugs that cause impairment – such as drowsiness or confusion – cannot be taken before driving, neither can medical marijuana, without the risk of being arrested for OUI.

What Are the Penalties for OUI Drugs in Massachusetts?

If you are convicted of operating under the influence of marijuana in Massachusetts (referred to as “OUI Drugs”), you could face the same penalties as a drunk driving accident crime. The penalties are not increased just because you were deemed to be high rather than drunk. The penalties will increase, however, if you cause a car accident or otherwise aggravate the crime. A sentence for OUI Drugs in Massachusetts typically includes:

  • The loss of your driver’s license (suspension or revocation)
  • Fines and surcharges
  • Time spent in jail or prison
  • Restitution to the victims if you injured anyone
  • Mandatory drug counseling and education program
  • Probation

A marijuana-impaired driver is viewed as a threat to public safety. Operating under the influence while impaired by cannabis can result in a driver with reduced cognition, physical coordination, judgment, reflexes and reaction times. For this reason, Massachusetts lawmakers penalize OUI Drugs crimes heavily. It is important to contact a criminal defense lawyer near you as soon as possible if you get arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of marijuana.

What Are the Possible Defenses to an OUI Involving Marijuana?

It is difficult for prosecutors to prove cases against drivers who are accused of operating under the influence of marijuana. There is currently no scientifically established way to measure the amount of THC that causes impairment due to the different physiological effects that it has on people. While this unfortunately means that many drivers get arrested for OUI with any amount of THC in their systems – even lingering THC from days ago – it also leaves room for a strong defense.

With no legal standard yet established for THC in the bloodstream in Massachusetts, a defense attorney can help you combat an OUI Drugs charge based on an argument such as no crime committed, lack of impairment, and insufficient legal evidence of impaired driving. Discuss your specific defense strategy with an OUI attorney in Massachusetts as soon as possible after being arrested for this alleged crime for more information. Call the defense lawyers at Spring & Spring at (617) 513-9444 for a free consultation.