BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker is prodding lawmakers to pass restrictions on marijuana-impaired drivers as his proposal for tougher rules idles in a legislative committee.
Baker, a Republican who opposed legalization of marijuana, filed legislation earlier this year that would suspend the driver’s licenses of motorists suspected of being high behind the wheel who decline to submit to police demands for a blood, saliva or urine test. Most of the proposed rules would mirror the penalties for drunken drivers who refuse a Breathalyzer test.
But the proposal hasn’t gained much traction in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, even as the state’s commercial pot market expands.
Baker told reporters on Monday the new regulations are even more important since state regulators have approved plans for cannabis cafes and social consumption sites, which will “create new challenges for our public safety officials.”
Driving while under the influence of marijuana is illegal and punishable under the same laws against drunken driving. But there is no “implied consent” law in Massachusetts that requires drivers suspected of driving while stoned to submit to any such test, or penalties for not doing so.
Under Baker’s proposal, someone suspected of driving under the influence of pot who refuses to take a chemical test for impairment would lose their license for at least six months.
His plan would also would extend the state’s open container law to include marijuana, prohibiting drivers from having loose or unsealed packages of pot in their vehicles.
Britte McBride, a member of the state Cannabis Control Commission, said Baker’s proposal, which was based on recommendations made by a special commission, will put the state’s laws on impaired driving in line with other states that have legalized recreational pot.
“As access to legalized cannabis evolves, we collectively have an obligation to address the public health and safety concerns that arise,” McBride said. “And there’s no time to waste.”
Baker didn’t discuss what might be holding up consideration of his proposal. Civil liberties groups have pushed back against proposals to pair rules for drunken driving and marijuana use, citing the unreliability of field sobriety tests for pot and the possibility that minorities could be targeted by crackdowns on impaired driving.
The 2016 voter-approved marijuana law allows adults age 21 and older to possess up to 10 ounces of weed, and it authorizes regulated cultivation and retail sales. So far, at least 28 retail pot shops have opened. Massachusetts is also one of 33 states with a medical marijuana program.
Last year, a state Department of Public Health study found that nearly one-third of adults who reported using marijuana also reported driving under the influence of pot.
Police say a lack of technology and training for officers limits their ability to detect who is too high to drive. In most cases, police rely on a mix of field tests, blood tests and evidence from drug-recognition experts to identify impaired drivers.
Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael Jr. told reporters Monday the state urgently needs to update its regulations on dealing with stoned motorists.
“It is vital that if we’re going to task law enforcement with maintaining safety on our roadways, we had better make sure the officers are equipped with the necessary tools,” he said.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.