Marijuana debate goes mobile as ‘magic number’ for driving while stoned sought

May 5, 2016:

LANSING, MI — How much marijuana makes someone too impaired to drive a vehicle?

The answer isn’t easy to find, but it’s one more than 100 lawmakers are set on finding.

The Michigan House are seeking a study to find the “magic number” of how much marijuana in a driver’s blood means the person is impaired, a decision that currently falls to Michigan courts and juries.

While supporters look for a threshold based on a standard measurement of active THC (the main ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter of blood to catch drivers stoned to impairment, detractors say it’€™s not that simple. Marijuana interacts differently with a person’s body compared to alcohol, critics say, making it harder to measure for and determine impairment.

State Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, is the sponsor of the bill to create the study commission. He said other states have a set threshold for driving under the influence of marijuana — 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood in Colorado —  but they pulled those numbers “€œout of their derrieres.”

He believes Michigan can be a pioneer and the first state to set a limit backed by science.

“€œIf we don’€™t get it correct, credibility wise, what’€™s the point?”€ he said.

The bill describes a governor-appointed commission to study and find the “magical number,” Lucido said, that would include a forensics toxicologist, a physician, a state police representative, a medical marijuana patient, and two professors from different Michigan public research universities.

Chris Lindsey, Senior Legislative Analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington D.C., said the organization supports the idea of reasonable laws to protect people from unsafe driving due to marijuana impairment, but criticizes “€œper se laws,”€ that identify a certain amount of THC in someone’s system.

“€œSpoiler alert, they’re not going to find it,”€ he said, confident that Michigan will study the issue and determine there is no magic number.

How other states enforce stoned driving

How other states enforce stoned driving

The Michigan House passed a bill to study how much marijuana in a driver’s body means the person is driving impaired. See how 25 other states with legal or decriminalized marijuana deal with the issue.

The MPP, formed in 1995, calls itself the largest U.S. organization focused solely on ending marijuana prohibition. The MPP acknowledges impairment can begin when active THC blood levels reach 5 to 10 ng/mL, but says not every driver with that concentration level is impaired and heavy users have higher concentrations in their blood even when sober.

“€œThese laws may make some patients have to give up legally driving — even when they are completely unimpaired€” — if they want to use the medicine that works best for them,” the MPP writes.

Triston Cole, the lone lawmaker voting against creating the commission, did not return a message left seeking comment.

Legal haze

Several stakeholders agree there are inconsistencies between Michigan’€™s motor vehicle code and the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.

A House Fiscal Agency report on the bill notes that the Michigan Vehicle Code prohibits a person from driving with any detectable amount of a Schedule 1 controlled substance (including marijuana) in his or her body, while the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act protects a qualifying registered patient from prosecution for operating a vehicle with any amount of marihuana in his or her system, as long as the patient is not under the influence of the drug.

Under current law, Lucido, a former defense attorney, said cases of drugged driving have been thrown out because there is no established limit based on a chemical test of bodily fluids to back up a claim in court.

“œDefense lawyers will pick it apart otherwise because somebody arbitrarily and capriciously picked that number out,” he said.

Issues of the laws were highlighted in the May 2013 Michigan Supreme Court decision in People Vs. Rodney Lee Koon, a driver pulled over for speeding in Grand Traverse County who presented an officer a medical marihuana card. Koon was arrested and a blood test showed 10 ng of THC per milliliter of his blood, according to court documents. He was charged with operating a motor vehicle with any amount of a schedule 1 controlled substance in his body.

A trial court ruled the defendant was protected from prosecution under Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Act, and the circuit court upheld on appeal. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision, but the Michigan Supreme Court overturned, ruling the defendant was protected.

The Supreme Court noted, however, had the defendant been “shown to have been under the influence of marijuana, then the MMMA’s protections will not apply, and the prosecution may seek to convict defendant under any statute of which he was in violation . . .”

The Supreme Court decision noted that the court was often being asked to weigh in on the issue relating to medical marijuana and driving under the influence, and suggested the legislature consider adopting a “€œlegal limit,”€ like the one for alcohol, to establish when a registered patient is outside the MMMA’s protection.

Lucido said people have the right to use marijuana for medication, but says they shouldn’t be allowed to “€œovermedicate”€ and get behind the wheel of a car.

“€œHow high can they be before they’€™re putting someone’s life at risk?” which Lucido said would be the commission’€™s job to determine.

Crashes involving drugs grow to decade high in Michigan, police say

Crashes involving drugs grow to decade high in Michigan, police say

The total number of traffic crashes involving drugs, 2,215 last year, has reached a decade-high in Michigan, according to police statistics.

Michigan marijuana activist Rick Thompson of Flint, author of the Compassion Chronicles, believes the legislature wants to forego the evaluation of whether the chemical THC impairs driving, saying the science is inconclusive.

“€œThis is backwards science,”€ Thompson said. “€œInstead of asking the University to study if THC has a negative effect on driving, and if so at what level, the legislature is directing the scientists to make an assumption that is not clearly established and start from that premise.”

The proposal to study the issue comes on the heels of Michigan Sen. Tom Casperson’€™s bill, which passed the Senate 28-10 in January, that would create a pilot program in five Michigan counties for roadside testing for marijuana, heroin, cocaine and other drugs.

Thomas J. Swift and Barbara J. Swift were killed in a May 20, 2013, crash in Escanaba when a driver on a suspended license with THC in his system, careened into the couple’€™s car, killing them.

“€œThis is the worst kind of death because somebody else chooses your fate for you by making selfish, senseless decisions,”€ the couple’s€™ son, Brian T. Swift, said.

The driver, Harley Durocher, was convicted by a jury and sentenced on several counts including reckless driving causing death and two counts of operating while intoxicated causing death. His earliest release date is in December 2019.

Casperson’s bill, Senate Bill 434, is a separate but related issue that deals with roadside testing for drugs while Lucido’€™s bill would impact drug testing for marijuana during a blood draw, typically administered at a police facility or hospital.

“€œNo amount is acceptable,”€ Swift said when asked about the vote to create a commission to find a threshold for marijuana DUI. ”€œYou should not get behind the wheel in any impaired state.”

Swift equates the the issue to the time before the alcohol Breathalyzer, and noted that it’€™s now a widely-accepted tool to detect drunk drivers. The proposed roadside drug testing pilot program would help define a similar roadside process for other substances, he said.

“€œIn the meantime, we shouldn’t not act,” he said.

30 Michigan counties with the most drugged driving crashes

30 Michigan counties with the most drugged driving crashes

The 30 Michigan counties with the most drugged driving crashes

 

Thompson has been a vocal critic of both bills.

If the THC threshold bill, referred to the Committee on Judiciary April 27, passes and becomes law, it will be a while before the study is complete, the House Fiscal agency reports.

“€œBy some estimates,”€ the report states, “€œunless the scope of the research was scaled back, the wording of the bill appears to call for a study the scope of which could cost up to $10 million and take a decade to complete.”

— Brad Devereaux is a public safety reporter for MLive.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

By Brad Devereaux | bdeverea@mlive.com

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on May 05, 2016 at 6:30 AM, updated May 05, 2016 at 12:12 PM

Original post: http://tinyurl.com/hqhq2mf

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