Voters in Massachusetts voted in November 2012 to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but lawmakers are still working out the details of how to incorporate the reform into the state’s existing regulatory structure. One issue that is likely to grow increasingly relevant for medical marijuana users in Massachusetts is the issue of drugged driving and how such charges are prosecuted in the Commonwealth.

Massachusetts drugged driving law

Massachusetts law provides that a driver can be charged with OUI for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs, including marijuana, narcotics, depressants, stimulants or glue vapors.

Unlike alcohol, which dissipates from the bloodstream relatively quickly, many drugs remain detectable in the body for several days after their intoxicating effects have worn off. As a result, some drivers may test positive for marijuana or other drugs even if they are not actually under the influence at the time they are pulled over.

Charges for alcohol-related OUI in Massachusetts rely largely on a driver’s blood alcohol content, which provides an objective standard for determining whether he or she is intoxicated. A driver whose breath or blood test reveals a BAC of 0.08 or above can be charged with OUI. For drug-related OUI charges, however, there is no clear-cut threshold for establishing whether a driver is under the influence. As a result, drugged driving cases in Massachusetts often rely heavily on the subjective impressions of individual law enforcement officers.

Penalties for drugged driving in Massachusetts

Even a first-time OUI offense can have steep penalties in Massachusetts, including fines of up to $5,000 and a license suspension for as much as one year, and imprisonment for up to 30 months if convicted.

With repeat convictions, the penalties grow increasingly severe. A fifth or subsequent conviction, for example, carries a mandatory prison sentence of up to five years, fines of up to $50,000 and lifetime revocation of driving privileges.

In some cases, depending on the circumstances of the offense and the existence of any prior convictions, a driver charged with drugged driving in Massachusetts may be able reduce his or her sentence by participating in a drug treatment or counseling program.

Legal help for Massachusetts OUI charges

If you or a loved one is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Massachusetts, it is important to contact an attorney right away – before talking to police or investigators. A lawyer with experience defending against Massachusetts OUI charges will make sure that your rights are protected during the investigation and can advocate on your behalf to have the charges dropped or reduced.