Media Awareness Project



DrugSense FOCUS Alert #288 Wednesday, 21 April 2004

Yesterday the Cincinnati Post published an OPED and an Editorial, below, about a new bill before Congress. The NORML website describes the bill as follows:

H.R. 3922, sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of legislators including Reps. Robert Portman (R-OH), Sander Levin (D-MI), Steven LaTourette (R-OH), Mark Souder (R-IN) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN), seeks to impose so-called "model" DUID legislation upon all 50 states - demanding they enact statutes sanctioning anyone who operates a motor vehicle "while any detectable amount of a controlled substance is present in the person's body, as measured in the person's blood, urine, saliva, or other bodily substance."

And another is a bill aimed at the same target, also as described by NORML:

H.R. 3907, sponsored by Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV), demands that state legislatures amend their DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) to enact mandatory minimum penalties for anyone convicted of driving under the influence of illegal drugs. Under the proposal, states have until 2006 to pass and enforce DUID laws "approved by the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration," or lose portions of their federal highway funding.

The OPED below clearly points out the problem with these bills, and the Editorial gives additional reasons for taking action.

Need More Facts? See:

Cannabis and Driving


References on Drugs and Driving

Related news clippings may be found at

and (Cannabis and Driving)


Write a LTEs to the papers in your state about this issue. This is a good example of a topic that may result in a printed letter without the need to tie it to any other specific item the papers may have printed.

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Also consider sending them both the OPED and the Editorial. Ask your papers to please print similar editorial page items about these bills.

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Pubdate: Tue, 20 Apr 2004
Source: Cincinnati Post (OH)
Copyright: 2004 The Cincinnati Post
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation
in Washington, DC.


Imagine if it was against the law to drive home after consuming a single glass of wine at dinner. Now imagine it was against the law to do so after having consumed a single glass of wine two weeks ago.

Sound absurd? No more so than newly proposed Congressional legislation by Ohio Rep. Rob Portman mandating that each state enact laws sanctioning anyone who operates a motor vehicle "while any detectable amount of a controlled substance is present in the person's body, as measured in the person's blood, urine, saliva, or other bodily substance."

While the expressed purpose of this legislation, the "Drug Impaired Driving Enforcement Act of 2004," is to target and remove drug-impaired drivers from our nation's roadways, the reality is that this poorly worded proposal would do little to improve public safety. Rather, it would falsely categorize sober drivers as "intoxicated" simply if they had consumed an illicit substance, particularly marijuana, some days or weeks earlier.

A case in point. John and Jane Doe attend a party. John enjoys a glass of wine while Jane takes a puff from a marijuana cigarette. The next day, John and Jane are pulled over. John is given a breathalyzer test and tests negative for alcohol. Jane is asked to submit to a urine test and tests positive for marijuana. Jane is then arrested for "driving under the influence of drugs," despite the fact that any impairment she experienced from smoking marijuana would have worn off hours earlier.

That's because Portman's proposal, so-called "zero tolerance" per se legislation, presumes individuals guilty of driving while intoxicated simply if trace levels of a controlled substances or even drug metabolites (inactive compounds indicative of past drug use) are detected in their bodily fluids -- even if the individual is neither under the influence nor impaired to drive. For anyone who enjoys an occasional toke from a marijuana cigarette, this news ought to be especially unsettling, as marijuana metabolites are often detectable in a person's urine for days or even weeks after the drug is consumed.

Aside from being poorly drafted, this unfunded federal mandate from Congress is unnecessary. All states already have DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) statutes on the books. Most are "effect-based" laws that forbid drivers to operate a motor vehicle if they are either "under the influence" of a controlled substance, or if they have been rendered "incapable of driving safely" because of their use of an illicit drug. This is a multidisciplinary standard that focuses on the totality of circumstances and rightly punishes motorists who drive while impaired from having recently used illicit drugs.

There is no need for additional legislation, especially from the federal government.

While driving under the influence of illicit and licit substances is obviously a serious issue, Portman's proposal neither addresses the problem nor offers a legitimate solution. "Zero tolerance" laws are neither a safe nor sensible way to identify impaired drivers; they are an attempt to misuse the traffic safety laws in order to identify and prosecute recreational drug users.

At a minimum, laws targeting drug drivers should identify "parent drugs" (in other words, cocaine or THC), not simply inactive drug metabolites. Further, these laws must have scientifically sound cut-off levels that correlate drug concentration to impairment of performance, similar to the 0.08 BAC standard that now exists for drunk driving. There must also be assurances that the laws mandate any and all drug testing to be performed and confirmed by accredited state labs using uniform procedures and standards.

Until these measures are in place, it is premature and illogical for Congress to strong-arm states to adopt this unnecessary and unsound "zero tolerance" drugged driving policy.

The Editorial:

Pubdate: Tue, 20 Apr 2004
Source: Cincinnati Post (OH)
Copyright: 2004 The Cincinnati Post


U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, who has established himself as a national leader in the war on drugs, recently opened a new frontier. He and several others in the U.S. House introduced legislation aimed at boosting state enforcement of laws against drug impaired driving.

The broad goal of getting drug-impaired drivers off the road is obviously one that should command broad support. And this is a generally restrained push in that direction.

But there are legitimate objections to certain of the bill's assumptions -- and every reason in the world to suspect that what's being touted today as a carrot to help states will eventually turn into a stick used to punish those that don't climb onto the wagon.

Proponents of the bill cites statistics by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which suggest that illegal drugs (often in conjunction with alcohol) are used by between 10 percent and 22 percent of drivers involved in crashes. Portman says that nearly 11 million people drove under the influence of illegal drugs in 2002. And there is no shortage of horrific local examples about what can happen when motorists drive under the influence of marijuana, cocaine and alcohol.

In nine states, the mere presence of illegal drug residues in the body is regarded as evidence of drug-impaired driving, regardless of concentration or whether there's evidence the motorists ability to control a vehicle really was compromised. The bill acknowledges, however, that the technology for identifying illegal drugs in the body is inadequate, and authorizes federal grants to develop it.

The bill would also:

. Authorize grants to train police officers and prosecutors about drug impaired driving.

. Require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to develop model legislation for use by states.

. Support research into impaired driving -- and the dissemination of results to judges, prosecutors, policymakers and others.

. Require annual reports to Congress on what states are doing about drug-impaired driving.

The bill proposes a modest boost in funding for such purposes, to $2 million annually from the $1.2 million being spent now.

Some advocacy groups (see the guest column on the opposite page) complain the bill promotes a double standard by criminalizing trace amounts that can stay in the body for days after any incapacitating effect has worn off.

The bigger concern, we submit, is Washington's intention over the long haul.

State motor vehicle laws are not properly a federal issue. You don't see federal prosecutors handling drunken driving cases before federal judges, and Washington isn't picking up the cost to incarcerate or treat folks convicted of DUI. But that didn't stop Congress from threatening to withhold federal highway funds from states that refused to lower their DUI blood-alcohol levels to .08 percent. Nor has Washington seen fit to reimburse state and local governments for the costs of what was functionally a mandate.

There is every reason to expect the same pattern will eventually play out with drug-impaired driving. At a time when most states, for financial and policy reasons, have decided that drug abusers don't belong in prison, and when casual marijuana use has effectively been decriminalized, we might well see Congress turning the screws to get more people into the criminal justice system via driving laws -- and sticking state and local governments with the tab.

If the states want to put drunken and drug-impaired driving on equal footing -- genuinely equal footing -- fine. Punish behavior -- that is, those who drive while impaired -- and direct most resources at the alcoholics and addicts who are by far the greatest risk to the motoring public. But the federal role here ought to be quite limited. Besides, a government as hideously indebted as this one doesn't need to be looking for new spending agendas.

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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Focus Alert Specialist

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