Pubdate: Tue, 06 Jul 2004
Source: News-Sentinel, The (Fort  Wayne, IN)
Copyright: 2004 The News-Sentinel
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation 
in Washington, D.C.
Action: Please Tell Congress to Identify Impaired Drivers
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


IMAGINE IF IT was against the law to drive home after consuming one
glass of wine at dinner. Now imagine it was against the law to do so
after having a glass of wine two weeks ago.

Sound absurd? No more so than proposed legislation by U.S. Rep. Mark
Souder 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."

The expressed purpose of this legislation, H.R. 3922: the "Drug
Impaired Driving Enforcement Act of 2004," is to remove drug-impaired
drivers from our roadways, but in reality, this proposal would do
little to improve safety. Rather it would falsely categorize sober
drivers as "intoxicated" simply if they had consumed an illicit
substance, particularly marijuana, days or weeks earlier.

Souder's proposal, recently added to the House transportation
reauthorization bill, presumes individuals guilty of driving while
intoxicated if even trace levels of a controlled substance or even
drug metabolites (inactive compounds indicative of past drug use) are
found in bodily fluids, even if the individual is neither under the
influence nor impaired to drive. Marijuana metabolites are often
detectable in urine for days or weeks after the drug is consumed.
Imagine if we prosecuted recreational drinkers similarly. This
unfunded federal mandate from Congress is unnecessary. All states
already have DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) statutes on
the books. Most focus on the totality of circumstances -- most
importantly, whether the motorist is physically or mentally impaired
- -- and rightly punishes those who drive under the influence of illicit

There is no need for additional legislation, especially from the
federal government. While drug-impaired driving is obviously a serious
issue, Souder'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 per se. Furthermore, identifying and
sanctioning impaired drivers should be solely a state issue, and not a
Congressional concern. At a minimum, state laws targeting drug drivers
should identify "parent drugs" (i.e., cocaine or THC) the psychoactive
component in marijuana), not simply inert drug metabolites.

These laws must have scientifically sound cut-off levels that
correlate drug concentration to impairment of performance, similar to
the 0.08 BAC standard for drunk driving. There must also be assurances
that the laws require drug testing be performed and confirmed by
accredited state labs using uniform procedures and standards. Such
measures, if enacted by states, would be reasonable alternatives to
"zero tolerance" drugged-driving legislation. Meanwhile, Congress
should butt out of the issue altogether.
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