Pubdate: Mon, 21 Jun 2004
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2004 Independent Media Institute
Author: Paul Armentano, AlterNet
Note: This article originally appeared in Heads Magazine in Canada. Paul 
Armentano is the senior policy analyst for The NORML Foundation in 
Washington, DC.
Bookmark: (Drug Test)
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


New State and Federal Laws Seek to Charge Non-Impaired Pot Smokers
With 'Drugged Driving.'

Imagine if it were against the law to drive home after consuming a
single glass of wine at dinner. Now imagine it was illegal to drive
after having consumed a single glass of wine two weeks ago. Guess
what? If you smoke pot, it's time to stop imagining.

Legislation weaving its way through the US Congress demands all 50
states pass laws granting police the power to drug test drivers and
arrest anyone found to have "any detectable amount of a controlled
substance ... present in the person's body, as measured in the
person's blood, urine, saliva, or other bodily substance." Though the
expressed purpose of the law is to target and remove drug-impaired
drivers from US roadways, the proposal would do nothing of the sort.

Most troubling, the proposed law -- H.R. 3922 -- does not require
motorists to be identifiably impaired or intoxicated in order to be
criminally charged with the crime of "drugged driving." Rather, police
have only to demonstrate that the driver has detectable levels of
illicit drugs or inactive drug metabolites in their blood, sweat,
saliva or urine. As many pot smokers know, marijuana metabolites are
fat soluble, and remain identifiable in the urine for days and
sometimes even weeks after past use. Consequently someone who smoked a
joint on Monday could conceivably be arrested on Friday and charged
with "drugged driving," even though they are perfectly sober!

Here's how the law would work. Police, at their discretion, could
order motorists during a traffic stop to undergo a drug test, most
likely a urine test. If the driver's urine tests positive for prior
pot use then he or she would automatically be charged and eventually
found guilty of the criminal offense of driving under the influence of
drugs -- even if the pot in question was consumed weeks earlier. Under
the law, the fact that the driver is not impaired is irrelevant; the
only "evidence" necessary is the positive test result.

So Who's Behind This?

Over the past five years, a small cabal of prohibitionists, drug
testing proponents and toxicologists have pushed for legislation
criminalizing drivers who operate a vehicle with inert drug
metabolites present in their system. To date, their efforts have
persuaded ten states -- Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana,
Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Wisconsin -- to pass
such "drugged driving" laws, known as zero-tolerance per se laws.
Leading this charge is the Walsh Group, a federally funded
organization that develops drug testing technology and lobbies for
rigid workplace drug testing programs. Walsh Group President, Michael
Walsh, is the former Director of the Division of Applied Research at
the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and formerly served as
the Associate Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy
(ONDCP), informally known as the Drug Czar's office

In November 2002, the group partnered with the ONDCP to lobby state
legislatures to amend their drugged driving laws. Every state has laws
on the books prohibiting motorists from driving "under the influence"
of a controlled substance. Like drunk driving laws, virtually all of
these laws require the motorists to be impaired by their drug use in
order to be charged with "drugged driving."

Nevertheless, the Walsh Group argued that these existing laws are too
lax on illicit drug users. To bolster their claim, they argued --
without explanation -- that actually linking illicit drug use to
impaired driving is a "technically complicated and difficult task."
Their solution? States should enact zero tolerance per se laws
redefining "drugged drivers" as any motorist who tests positives for
any level of illicit drugs or drug metabolites, regardless of whether
their driving is impaired.

"There is clearly a need for national leadership at the federal level
to develop model statutes and to strongly encourage the states to
modify their laws," the organization concluded in a widely
disseminated report. Notably, the authors failed to mention that the
widespread enactment of such a policy would be a political and
financial windfall for the Walsh Group's drug testing technology and
consulting services.

The Walsh Group is hardly the only organization with something to gain
from the Bush administration's proposed "drugged driving" crackdown.
Speaking at a White House-sponsored symposium in February, former
1970s Drug Czar Robert Dupont -- another ex-NIDA director who now
helms the workplace drug testing consultation firm Bensinger, Dupont &
Associates (BDA) -- also demanded the federal government mandate
zero-tolerance drugged driving laws.

"Workplace drug testing has prepared us for drugged driving testing,"
Dupont told attendees, arguing that just as many public and private
employees are subjected to random drug screening, so should motorists.
Those drivers who test positive, says Dupont, should then be monitored
through regularly scheduled drug tests, including hair testing, for a
period of two to five years.

"The benefits of this approach will be improved highway safety," he
concluded, failing to explain how punishing sober drivers while
simultaneously lining BDA's pockets would make America's roadways any

Cruising on Cannabis: What's the Problem?

"Driving under the influence of, or after having used, illegal drugs
has become a significant problem worldwide," states the preamble to
H.R. 3922. However, despite the government's claim, epidemiological
evidence on the number of motorists who drive under the influence of
illicit drugs is scarce.

Further, among the limited evidence that does exist, much of it finds that
pot's measurable yet relatively mild effects on psychomotor skills do not
appear to play a significant role in vehicular crashes, particularly when
compared to alcohol. "Crash culpability studies have failed to demonstrate
that drivers with cannabinoids in the blood are significantly more likely
than drug-free drivers to be culpable in road crashes," summarized
researchers Gregory Chesher and Marie Longo in the recent book Cannabis and
Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Potential. A 2002
Canadian Senate report was even more succinct, stating, "Cannabis alone,
particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in
automobile driving."

Nonetheless, Congress' proposed bill specifically and
disproportionately targets motorists who may occasionally smoke pot
because marijuana's metabolites exit the body more slowly than other
drug metabolites, often remaining detectable in urine for several
weeks at a time. Equally troubling, there currently exists no
technology that can accurately correlate drug metabolite concentration
to impairment of performance.

Of course, such concerns are no bother to those in Congress who intend
to ride this latest wave of drug war rhetoric to reelection. Nor are
they of much worry to those in the drug testing industry who stand to
make a fortune prosecuting and jailing sober pot smokers.

As for everybody else, be afraid; be very afraid. And be sure to keep
a fresh sample of urine in the glove compartment.
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