Congress Debates Marijuana Legalization And Impaired Driving

Congress Debates Marijuana Legalization And Impaired Driving

A congressional committee looking at drug-impaired driving repeatedly turned to the question of marijuana legalization and its potential impact on U.S. roadways on Wednesday.

Several witnesses took questions from members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on ways to reduce drug-impaired driving, but the experts generally agreed that it’s difficult to identify a direct link between cannabis reform efforts at the state-level and rates of traffic incidents.

What’s more, the kind of technology that enables law enforcement officials to determine the level of intoxication of a driver who consumed alcohol does not currently exist for marijuana. Drug tests can find inactive metabolites of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, but there aren’t any devices that can demonstrate active impairment. Those inactive ingredients can also show up in drug tests for as long as a month for marijuana, compared to just days for other drugs such as cocaine, so their presence does not necessarily indicate that someone is high behind the wheel.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) mentioned that Illinois law enforcement departments are “experimenting with a new swab test” for various drugs, but that for the time being, results of those tests are “unlikely to be admissible in court.”

The experts echoed the congresswoman’s skepticism about the utility of existing drug testing technology such as blood alcohol content (BAC) tests for marijuana. Dr. Robert DuPont, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health and a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said that “there is no fixed relationship between blood and impairment for other drugs” besides alcohol.

“Alcohol is the exception—not marijuana—in this, and we’re going to have exactly that problem with every single drug. It cannot be fixed with additional research.”

One simple way to minimize marijuana use behind the wheel would be to impose a zero-tolerance policy for individuals under 21, similar to alcohol, DuPont recommended. But that would lead to widespread criminalization of minors who use marijuana but don’t necessarily drive under the influence, and could even sweep up young people who use medical cannabis.

Colleen Sheehy-Church, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), called for additional research to establish evidence-based drug testing technology but acknowledged that alcohol remains the deadliest and costliest factor in traffic fatalities.

“What we don’t know, however, is the role of [other] drugs as a causal factors in traffic crashes,” she said. “This is why more research is needed.”

Two members of the committee—Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-IN) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ)—voiced their opposition to recreational marijuana legalization during the hearing. Bucshon, who is also a heart surgeon, said that his experience as a medical professional led him to oppose reform efforts because he worried about the potential health impact on the brains of young users.

Lance said that he was “open to expanding access for medicinal use of marijuana,” but opposes broader legalization.

“I’m especially worried about the legalization of recreational marijuana’s effects on our roadways,” Lance said. “New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation.”

But while the conversation over marijuana legalization and drug-impaired driving during the hearing was largely centered on methods that can be used to mitigate the risk, there was no mention of the growing body of research that contradicts the notion that legalization leads to increased traffic incidents.

For example, a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found “changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization.”

A similar study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that “states that legalized marijuana have not experienced significantly different rates of marijuana- or alcohol-related traffic fatalities relative to [states that haven’t legalized].”

Senate Committee Ignores Key Facts About Marijuana And Driving

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Congress Debates Marijuana Legalization And Impaired Driving

Colorado Man’s Marijuana DUI Dropped in Court

Colorado Man’s Marijuana DUI Dropped in Court

In Colorado, like many states with legal marijuana, driving with a small trace of marijuana (5 nanograms) in one’s bloodstream results in a DUI. This results a legal conundrum: does marijuana in one’s system necessarily mean impairment?

If a recent Colorado ruling in favor of a “stoned driver” is any indication, that answer is a definitive no. Ralph Banks, a 27-year-old Ralph Banks of Lakewood, Colorado, had his cannabis DUI acquitted by a Jefferson County Court jury after a less than 30-minute discussion in the jury room.

Banks’ case dates back to last March (2015), when a missing headlight got him pulled over by the Lakewood police; he was given a roadside test, deemed “under the influence of cannabis”, then cuffed and handed a DUI. A blood test also revealed that Banks had 7.9 nanograms per milliliter of THC in his System, which is 2.9 milliliters over the legal limit.

However, last week’s jury threw the case out and called Banks innocent after a brief huddle, clearly deciding he wasn’t impaired. As one would expect, Banks deemed the whole ordeal a disaster.

“It was a nightmare. It was the worst experience of my life.”

But one man’s temporary nightmare could mean future bliss for medicated or high drivers all throughout Colorado. Banks’ attorney, well-known cannabis litigator Rob Corry seems to think this decision indicates as long as the driver isn’t impaired, he or she will be in the clear.

“Now with this case, it’s perfectly legal to get behind the wheel after consuming marijuana as long as you’re not impaired. And that’s the key. You can do it if you’re not impaired. If you’re impaired, do not get behind the wheel of a vehicle.”

Given this result, Corry’s logic seems at least somewhat believable. However, there are many mitigating factors in any case that can determine one’s guilt, and they all stem from proof of impairment.

Banks’ case was pretty cut and dry, because a missing headlight isn’t like swerving in and out of lanes or stopping at a green light. Perhaps Banks’ headlight was caused by stoner indifference, but it’s more likely it was just an honest mistake warranting a citation, not a roadside drug test.

Still, there is plenty of evidence in favor of the hypothesis that medicated–but not impaired–drivers will continue to win these cases as they arise. Last year, a woman in Colorado also had her DUI acquitted in a very similar scenario; in 2013 a Michigan man set the first precedent for these types of cases when a court also dropped his marijuana DUI charge.

Moreover, numerous studies–even one by the government–have shown empirical evidence that drivers high on cannabis are 60 times safer than those on alcohol. In fact, the government study even claims that drivers on marijuana

“were no more likely to crash than who had not used any drugs or alcohol prior to driving.”

That may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s clearly safe to say that driving on marijuana clearly does not pose the threat driving on alcohol, pain killers, or harder drugs presents. While it’s still not a good idea to get behind a wheel right after consuming cannabis in most circumstances, these recent rulings and science show that you’re not really putting anyone at risk, nor are you committing a crime.

For some medical marijuana patients, like those with Parkinson’s, it’s not difficult to see how cannabis could in fact improve one’s driving. Cannabis (CBD in particular) has the ability to cease shaking and steady hands down.

Would you rather have that driver on his medicine or “stone” sober.

Bernie Canter

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