This New Law Should Go To Pot

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Legal marijuana possession in Massachusetts is less than a month old and we’re seeing the fruits.

A central Massachusetts man charged with driving under the influence of drugs is before the state’s highest court seeking to have his conviction thrown out because the police can’t prove he was stoned. From the looks of things, he’s going to win.

For years the dirty little secret was that cops couldn’t prove intoxication by drugs. (For some drugs the tests were too time-consuming and expensive; for others it couldn’t be proved at all.)

So usually they wouldn’t bother. Someone smoking a joint while driving would typically get arrested not for driving under the influence of drugs (except in an egregious case) but for possession of a Class A substance.

Now, that’s not only not a crime but it’s not even a civil offense anywhere in the state. (And really, for practical purposes, it hasn’t been since shortly after the 2008 decriminalization ballot referendum, when it became clear that even the fines were unenforceable.)

So what will we get?

More intoxicated drivers.

Ironically, at a time when our society has gotten less tolerant of drunken driving, we are throwing open the doors to driving while high. Because if you can’t prove it in a court of law, more people are going to do it.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in the driving-while-stoned case earlier today (Friday, January 6). And the comical State House News Service story shows how bad things look for the commonwealth. At one point, answering a question, a public defender instructed one of the justices that a driver who stumbles getting out of the car and admits to having just smoked five joints cannot, under current state law, be considered legally intoxicated without being examined by an expert.

What if the driver also fails a sobriety test, such as failing to stand on one foot?

Reporter Andy Metzger paraphrases the public defender’s response:

… chronic marijuana users tend to have difficulty standing on one foot even when they are not high.”

We’re familiar with the libertarian comeback — that adults ought to be able to do what they want if they aren’t hurting someone else.

There are two problems with it. First, some marijuana users on the roads are going to be putting others at serious risk very soon and many of them will get away with it.

The second problem points to the limits of libertarianism. A libertarian talks about freedom, and rightly so. But for a conservative, a just society means not just freedom but love. And love means trying to promote the good.

Marijuana is not the good. Marijuana is a terrible drug.

The memory loss that comes from marijuana use is a sign of brain damage. So are the other maladies associated with it.

Like most people, we sympathize with that tiny number of people with horrible, painful diseases who find solace in marijuana. But they aren’t what this situation is about. This situation is about significant numbers of people harming themselves and putting others at risk for no good reason. And now, our state government not only doesn’t care but is looking for ways to make more money out of it.

The smoke has left the bong. We aren’t going back soon.

But keep these sorts of stories in mind as they come up. Someday, perhaps we’ll all get a chance to reconsider.