SOMERSET, Mass. (WPRI) — Police chiefs in Somerset and Westport say they’ve seen more people combining alcohol and marijuana before getting behind the wheel.
“Within the last two or three years there has definitely been an uptick in the usage [of marijuana],” Somerset Police Chief George McNeil said Thursday.
According to McNeil, the trend has grown since the drug became legal for recreational use in the Bay State. In Westport, 22-year-old Kenneth Pacheco was arrested on Dec. 28 for driving under the influence of marijuana and alcohol. Police said they found the drug in a glass mason jar on his back seat, and a blood test revealed his blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit.
Westport’s police chief said they’ve witnessed a growing trend in drivers under the combined influence of liquor and cannabis.
McNeil said it’s possible people have the misconception that it’s OK to drive and smoke now that the drug is legal.
“I believe there are many more people driving while smoking or vaping, which is illegal,” he said. “It’s the same as possessing an open container of alcohol when you’re driving.”
Current Massachusetts law prohibits the consumption of marijuana in public places and while driving. Having an open container of marijuana or marijuana-infused products in the passenger area of a car is also illegal, just as it would be with alcohol, and comes with a civil fine of up to $500.
Massachusetts didn’t update their operating under the influence (OUI) laws when marijuana became legal, but just this week the state’s Commission on Operating Under the Influence submitted recommendations to state lawmakers to update those laws. Some of the proposed changes include removing the requirement to specify which type of substance caused the driver to be impaired, and enacting an “implied consent” rule for testing of suspected drugged drivers.
The commission also recommended the state train an additional 351 Drug Recognition Experts (there are currently an estimated 175) and add drug-impaired driving to drivers’ education courses.