A recent news article titled; “In the medical marijuana age, how high is too high to drive?” introduced the idea of writing new traffic law to define legal limits for drugged driving.
This concept was brought to light in Colorado by state Senator Steve King. Twelve years ago Colorado legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes and reportedly more than 85,000 people have been certified by the state health department to use it. Looking at the time period from 2006 to 2010, there were more than 300 fatal accidents involving drivers who tested positive for cannabis. These sobering facts are the main reason for introducing the concept of a legal limit for marijuana intoxication.
Other state legislators are making the connection between drugged driving and traffic fatalities. In California, Assemblywoman Norma Torres reportedly wants to set a zero-tolerance ban on driving under the influence of any drug, including marijuana.
Critics of these proposals argue that the ways that cannibis affects the human body are different than alcohol, the practical testing hasn’t been developed, and medical science hasn’t concluded what limit should be set as acceptable versus unacceptable for driving while having previously used medical marijuana (or other drugs for that matter).
How are states handling this now and what do they propose?
“According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states have what are known as “per se” laws regarding drugs and driving. That means anyone driving with traces of an illegal or impairing drug in his or her system is breaking the law. This is closer to a “zero tolerance” policy than the 0.08 percent blood alcohol content states have for drunk driving.
However, of those states that have per se laws, Arizona, Delaware, Michigan, Nevada and Rhode Island also allow medicinal marijuana, setting up an inherent conflict in their laws.
Marijuana is currently on unsure legal footing: Even as states are beginning to create a legal framework for allowing use of the drug, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a schedule I drug alongside LSD and heroin and has recently begun raiding dispensaries and arresting cultivators. The drug’s tenuous legal hold has created “a mess for enforcement for impaired driving,” says Chris Cochran, deputy director of public information for the California Office of Transportation Safety.
…In an attempt to create something like the clear standard that exists for alcohol intoxication, Nevada set a limit for THC in the blood at 2 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. That’s about 2 billionths of a gram of THC – one gram is about the weight of a paperclip – in one drop of blood.
In Colorado, state King’s bill would set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. And in Washington state, the ballot initiative that would legalize recreational use of marijuana would also set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.
Advocates of medical marijuana say the science isn’t supportive of adopting such specific limits. They worry that this approach will cause drivers who aren’t impaired but have lingering traces of THC in their blood to lose their drivers’ licenses. [emphasis added]
Research has not found a consistent intoxication standard similar to a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content.
While most “over the road” truckers have substance abuse screening programs in place (FMCSR Part 382, et.al.), many commercial fleet operators are not regulated in this area. The question remains, will drivers who get approved for medical use of marijuana and report for duty on Monday morning drive safely? What happens if they are involved in a tragic collision with fatalities and the circumstances lead to extended litigation with discovery of the alleged “impairment” of the driver?
Would these laws (as proposed in Colorado and California) be enforceable and/or helpful in curbing driving “under the influence” of medical marijuana?
Do these proposals go far enough? Is it equally important to document what concentration of antihistamines, Valium, antipsychotics, barbiturates, and codeine (et.al.) is “too much” in a person’s system to drive safely?
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