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  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    It’s relatively easy to determine when someone is too drunk to drive. If a driver’s blood-alcohol level is 0.08 percent or higher, that person is considered legally impaired. But a study says that measuring the effects of marijuana on drivers is far trickier, and that blood tests are an unreliable indication of impairment by cannabis. As more states consider legalizing the substance, that presents a challenge to legislators seeking to create laws on driving while impaired by marijuana.

    The study, commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that laws in six states that legally assess impairment by measuring how much THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) is in a person’s blood are not supported by science.

    “There is no concentration of the drug that allows us to reliably predict that someone is impaired behind the wheel in the way that we can with alcohol,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research.

    Lawmakers in those states looked to policies on drunken driving for cues on how to legislate against driving while high. But the body absorbs alcohol and cannabis in different ways, the study said. While drunkenness directly correlates to alcohol in the bloodstream, cannabis impairment takes place only when THC makes its way into the fatty tissue of the brain.

    Regular marijuana users, including those who take the drug medicinally, often show no signs of impairment after using, according to Jolene Forman, a staff lawyer for the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug-reform advocacy group. She also said that marijuana can stay in the blood for hours, days and even weeks after its effects wear off. As a result, the presence of THC in blood is not a useful indicator of whether the drug is impairing that person’s ability to drive. Furthermore, the study said, “The practical reality of identifying evaluating, arresting and sampling suspected impaired drivers means that the THC concentration measured in the blood specimen reflects neither the concentration in the subject’s blood at the time of arrest, nor the concentration of active drug in the brain.”

    In Montana, Washington, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada, drivers are presumed guilty if they have a certain amount of THC in their blood. Colorado also uses a threshold to assess impairment, though it allows suspects to provide evidence at trial that they were not impaired. The AAA study recommended that laws relying on thresholds be tossed out and that other factors be used. Mr. Nelson said that, ideally, those would include the failure of a standard field sobriety test and the results of a drug assessment conducted by a trained specialist. That assessment would include a blood test to confirm whether cannabis (or any other drug) was present in the bloodstream. But Ms. Forman said that using blood tests to establish impairment, even on a partial basis as Mr. Nelson suggested, could result in arbitrary punishments.

    “It would be equivalent to a test that shows that you had a glass of wine three nights prior,” she said. “It tells you nothing about whether the driver is safe now. If we have better tests in the future, then by all means we should use them, but right now those tests are not helpful.”

    She said that two groups would be especially vulnerable to such tests: patients using medical marijuana to treat illnesses, who would have high levels of THC in their blood regardless of their sobriety; and blacks and Latinos, who commit traffic violations at similar rates to whites but are more likely to be cited for them, data show.

    Sam Kamin, a professor of marijuana law and policy at the University of Denver, also objected to the blood tests’ inclusion. He said that though it was meaningful to confirm that someone suspected of driving while high had THC in his or her blood, a jury might weigh that information too heavily in deciding whether that person was impaired.

    “I think that the amount of THC in the bloodstream is a relevant factor; I just worry that it’s misleading,” he said.

    Over a dozen states are considering legalizing marijuana in some form in 2016, but it is not clear how they would institute laws to prevent people from driving while high. California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which proposes to legalize recreational marijuana, includes a provision for $15 million to be given to the California Highway Patrol over five years to “develop protocols and best practices for determining when a person is driving while impaired, including from marijuana use.” A similar act proposed in Massachusetts, where recreational marijuana is decriminalized but not legal, does not specify how impairment would be assessed.

    The AAA study echoes the recommendations of many experts who call for the improvement of technology to evaluate drivers’ saliva for cannabis use. Sean O’Connor, the faculty director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project at the University of Washington, said that there was promising research into detecting cannabis through saliva and other techniques, but that it was being stymied by the drug’s legal classification as a Schedule 1 substance.

    “We are hamstrung by the fact that you can’t do legitimate scientific research unless you have a Schedule 1 license,” he said.

    His argument underlines the difficulty for states trying to write coherent policy when the drug is still illegal under federal law. Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who edits a blog on marijuana law, policy and reform, said that even our knowledge about the way people drive when high is confounded by the reality that marijuana was illegal when some of that data was collected.

    “People had an extra reason to be cautious drivers when they were aware that they smelled like marijuana,” he said. “Now that it’s legal in some jurisdictions, absolutely that may affect not just the willingness of people to get behind the wheel after they’ve smoked, but also how much they’ll worry about getting pulled over.”

    By Jonah Bromwich - The NY Times/May 13, 2016
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. vervain
    It really is a conundrum, because tolerance and even overall effects can vary so much individual to individual - much moreso than alcohol, which tends to significantly impair driving very quickly. For some people even a small puff sends them to Venus (I know because I used to be one), others can smoke all day every day with very little impairment beyond their usual stoner perma-haze.

    Anecdotally I've noticed when even moderately high I will feel like I'm forgetting to look all ways, check my blind spots, etc. It's hard to tell whether I'm just overthinking it and getting anxious or whether there's some impairment going on. Have made it my policy to stay off the road at least 1.5 hours after smoking, that seems to be a good cutoff for me but again everyone varies.

    This is definitely going to become more of a conversation as more areas legalize cannabis and - as mentioned in that article - more people (i.e. formerly non-pot using folks) feel confident going out in public after smoking a couple bowls or what-have-you.
  2. noddygirl
    Yea I think people who are high on marijuana should not be allowed to drive. And there should be plenty of checkpoints and hey, if people get tickets and/or arrested for driving while really stoned, then that's a way for the states to make money to pay for things like roads, road repairs, and whatever else taxes go to paying for.
  3. Nosferatus
    You shouldn't drive while appreciably intoxicated, alcohol is unique in that it can be seen as both a food product and a drug and likewise consumed, so while one may, say have a beer with a meal without seeking or producing appreciable intoxication, that's the point of consuming any other drug, therefore there should be no level of cannabis intoxication that it is legal to drive under.
  4. noddygirl
    Agree Nos.
  5. Diverboone
    Nos and Noddy, would that effectively ban a person who is prescribed medical marijuana from driving? If so, I believe it to be a slippery slope. Many medications can have intoxicating effects, it would not be a far stretch of the imagination to see such laws to included these other medications.

    How could marijuana intoxication be detected is my question?
  6. Nosferatus
    It's no different than laws against driving while impaired by medication or fatigue. Level of intoxication might be difficult to assess, level of impairment isn't.
  7. Diverboone
    Please explain, I'm having difficulty understanding.
  8. Beenthere2Hippie
    DB, that's an excellent point.

    There is no solid place to draw one line that fits all safely until someone comes up with a test that not only show thc blood levels but also how many hours prior to being pulled over did the person being tested last indulge. Otherwise, we'll never have an accurate and fair reading on who is actually high on the road and who is not--but smoked last Thursday. :/
  9. Docta
    Researchers have preformed a set of tests and collated data that have established a bandwidth for intoxication much the same as alcohol. This in my state of Australia has been use to create a standardised saliva test for THC intoxication, this roadside test has been in use for about a decade with very little reported false positives. It is almost impossible to trip the test without consuming THC within the previous two hours, even then the test subject needs to be basically off there face to return a positive panel.

    It's no big deal when pulled over the driver gets the breath test for alcohol and then a tongue scrape with a plastic test panel testing for meth and THC.

    If the driver isn't stoned out of there brain there's nothing to worry about.
  10. Nosferatus
    They can't determine whether you have enough active THC in you to pass whatever legal threshold a la measuring BAC with a breathalyzer or blood sample, due to THC metabolites staying in the fat for several weeks after use, what they can determine with roadside ability tests is whether or not you are competent to operate a motor vehicle.
  11. Docta
    The labeling requirements for a wide variety of analgesics and other pharmaceuticals stipulate that the patient must not drive or operate heavy machinery, medical marijuana is no different. In fact a patient under self-medication as we offend see with medical marijuana is likely to be a very poor judge of impairment so they absolutely should not be driving at all.

    Cannabis based medications are becoming a mainstream treatment option worldwide and it must play by the rules to be taken seriously.
  12. aemetha
    It's inconsistent, but the inconsistency is that we allow people who have consumed alcohol to drive as long as they don't exceed a certain level.

    Any substance induces some degree of impairment, so if we are serious about having impaired drivers off the road we should introduce a 0 limit for alcohol and drugs legal or otherwise. People often claim that alcohol is a food, but it's nothing more than an excuse and a habit. There's no reason a person needs a glass of wine with dinner, a glass of water or orange juice is a much healthier option.

    I like to drink, I like to use alcohol to get a bit impaired sometimes too, but I've never in my life driven after having consumed any alcohol and please bear in mind I live more than 10km over a big hill from the closest public transport. If I can do it there's no reason other's can't do the same.

    Really the solution to all of these problems is driverless cars though. Drugs are just one of many factor's impairing drivers on our roads.
  13. Diverboone
    Sorry got interrupted by that thing called work. My questions are out of true curiosity. I could smoke some old rag weed and would be too impaired to drive. But I know people who can smoke the finest of greens and still function, with no observable effects.

    Also is there enough conclusive evidence showing that marijuana impairment accidents are a valid threat to others. Are we assuming that marijuana is causing accidents or is there some factually base statistics showing this to be true?

    Docta you may view "It's no big deal when pulled over the driver gets the breath test for alcohol and then a tongue scrape with a plastic test panel testing for meth and THC." as being no big deal. I however do not have the same view. It sounds much more like a fishing expedition than a valid traffic stop. Not to mention the 4th Amend (US) violations.
  14. detoxin momma
    personally, i think if we are going to crack down on people driving under the influence of marijauna, why stop there?
    i feel a person under the influence of drugs like benzo's is far more impaired than that of a driver under the influence of THC.
    obviously everyone has different tolerance levels though, so it would seem almost impossible to determine how intoxicated a person is, even with that THC breathylizer.

    if we are going to start testing drivers for THC intoxication, why not test for other drugs like opiates and benzos to.
    people are more likely to nod off driving under the influence of these drugs then marijuna, and they are legal!
    doesnt seem fair to me.

    ive been driving under the influence of THC since i started driving and never had an accident,even a mild fender bender, and im no granny driver,lol...
    there will always be unresponsible users that ruin it for the responsible ones though, thats just the way it goes.
  15. Docta

    I don't know what that means could you explain it please?

    Here in Australia it is made clear on the test when a new driver receives his or her licence that driving on drugs is not permitted, I had assumed that US would be the same.
  16. Diverboone
    Docta here in the U S it a common tactic to pull drivers over under the guise of a traffic infraction, often imaginary infraction. In an effort to gain consent or form probable cause to search. Often that probably cause comes attached to a leash. The whole intent is fishing for crimes the officer has little to no reason to expect or property that can be seized. Our civil forfeiture laws are very lax. Police can seize private property under mere suspicion.

    Requesting roadside drug test with little to no reason to believe a crime has been or is about to be committed would be an example of a fishing expedition.
  17. Docta
    Well a roadside test is not fishing because it is targeting is very specific crime, what I see in your case is more an abuse of power by police, from what you describe. The application of testing over here is a random on the spot test, no search or anything like that. Even if you test positive its an on the spot fine and licence suspension for intoxication, you are not charged with drug use because the roadside drug test can not be used as evidence to seek a conviction for anything other then being intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle . Laws are in place here to prevent the very abuses of power that you describe.

    Do you have random breath testing for alcohol intoxication in your state?
  18. Nosferatus
    Why is it okay to assume that certain professions are inherently corrupt? While they may occasionally be applied frivolously, sobriety tests are a way of investigating a suspected crime.
  19. Diverboone
    Docta we do not have random road side drug testing here in the U S. We do have sobriety check points, that are intended to ferret out impaired drivers. These check points mainly address alcohol impairments, but can include drugs, licit or illicit. Some States have legislation concerning roadside drug testing, in their works or some may have even passed by now. State laws differ and fluctuate from State to State. I'm sure that this will become a common practice in most States before long.

    Here an intoxicated driver is arrest and goes to jail. Many States have a minimum duration before the suspect impaired driver can bond out. This usually ranges from 6 to 12 hours. Their automobile is subject to be searched and possibly seized. More charges will follow if contraband is found in the automobile. The driver will be responsible for towage and storage fees. If found guilty of the driving while intoxicated the driver will be sentence to incarceration, usually 11 months 29 days. Most of the sentence will be suspended to probation.

    The cost of being arrested can become quite expensive.

    tow bill and storage
    booking fees for local jail
    bond and bondsman
    attorney fees
    Court fines and fees
    Jail fees for serving any sentence recieved
    Probation fees
    Probation testing and class fees if required
    Drivers license renewal fees
    Fees for mandated high risk insurance

    A DUI conviction can cause termination from employment and limit future employment opportunities.

    This toll is why I have had the questions I have had. Can laws be implemented and enforced that are based upon actual risk and true impairment? For example, amphetamine could increase your awareness making you a safer driver, or it could do quite the opposite, this all depends upon the user and amount used. There for it's not acceptable to assume all amphetamine positive drivers are impaired.
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