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State police plan major crackdown on marijuana-impaired driving

The Massachusetts State Police have announced plans for a crackdown on marijuana-impaired driving, even as the state continues to work on implementing legalization. Since there is no reliable test for measuring marijuana intoxication, however, the agency will be relying on officers who have received special training in how to recognize stoned drivers.

Massachusetts was one of four states that legalized recreational marijuana in November. On Dec. 15, 2016, it became legal for adults 21 and over to grow and possess small amounts of the drug.

Why crack down on drivers who are under the influence of THC in particular? According to the undersecretary of public safety for law enforcement, other states have experienced a jump in cannabis-related highway accidents after legalization.

Indeed, a study by the insurance group the Highway Loss Data Institute, collision claims in Washington, Oregon and Colorado have risen by 2.7 percent since those states began legal sales of recreational marijuana.

Some cannabis industry groups challenge the methodology of studies that link the legalization of marijuana to increased highway collisions. However, they generally welcome the effort to fight marijuana-impaired driving.

Drugged driving campaign includes amusing educational materials

According to NHTSA, the goal of the campaign against marijuana impairment is both educational and enforcement-based. The state police recently unveiled a media campaign intended to call out the dangers of driving under the influence of THC, marijuana's psychoactive compound.

"This isn't a Cheech and Chong movie, where everybody is kind of laughing and driving along and everyone is laid back," said NHTSA's regional administrator.

The goal of the campaign, which has humorous elements, is not to demonize the use of marijuana but merely to dispel rumors that it's safer to drive high than to drive drunk.

Marijuana does impair driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It reduces reaction times and affects the driver's ability to estimate time and distance. It also makes drivers drowsy.

Police drug recognition experts will build cases against stoned drivers

The head of the Massachusetts State Police acknowledges that there is no conclusive test for THC impairment, which makes marijuana-impaired driving hard to prosecute. The agency therefore plans to rely on officers who have been trained in how to identify drug impairment. It has already trained 33 such officers, who join 141 other officers in local police departments across the state, according to the Associated Press.

"We can testify to our observations and we bolster that with our training and our experience and that is how we bring these cases forward," he told reporters. "But it is a challenge."

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