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Alexander Stavrica

Massachusetts Plans “Open Container” Laws for Cannabis

Massachusetts regulators are attempting to align laws for driving under the influence of cannabis with existing alcohol laws.

Full story after the jump.

Massachusett’s Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving — formed after cannabis was legalized — is considering a law that would limit “open containers” of cannabis in vehicles, MassLive reports.

The move aims to align rules for operating a vehicle under the influence of cannabis with alcohol’s open container laws. Unlike in Canada, for instance, having cannabis within reach of a driver in Massachusetts currently does not constitute an open container.

According to Massachusetts’ liquor laws, an open alcohol container has had its seal broken and contents partially consumed. While the exact definition of what constitutes an open cannabis container remains debatable, many council members expressed opinions on the matter.

“We’ve all seen people smoking a joint at the red light next to us, and clearly that’s open container, but then the question gets what about the edibles, what about some of the oils?” —Massachusetts Undersecretary for Law Enforcement Jennifer Queally, via MassLive

Some argued that simply having the cannabis out and visible isn’t grounds to assume they’re intoxicated. Cannabis does not require refrigeration and there is no absolute chemical marker for intoxication. Opponents pointed out that cannabis can easily be kept in the glove box or trunk, where it would be out of sight yet still in the vehicle.

The strongest recommendation in the commission’s report calls for anyone refusing a roadside test by a police officer for cannabis intoxication to have their driver’s license suspended for six months. This would match the current penalty for refusing to submit to a roadside test for alcohol intoxication.

Other recommendations to the Legislature include providing police with information about the proper tests for signs of cannabis intoxication and training on how to administer those tests.

The commission also recommended public education about the dangers of intoxicated driving, establishing rules for how hospitals can test the blood of someone arrested under suspicion of intoxicated driving, and a transition from paper warrants to electronic warrants when seeking permission to conduct a vehicle search.

All recommendations from the commission must be approved by Massachusetts lawmakers before becoming law.

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