Pubdate: Thu, 22 Mar 2012
Source: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)
Copyright: 2012 Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Author: Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer


Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Chino, has introduced contentious
legislation that could conceivably mean DUI convictions for unimpaired
drivers, according to opponents of the bill.

The bill aims to make it a crime for drivers to operate a vehicle with
any level of marijuana in their blood or urine.

But unlike the relatively quick burnoff rate of alcohol from one's
system, advocates say marijuana compounds, or cannabinoids, can remain
detectable in the body after the last use of the substance for up to
30 days. This difference is at the center of the controversy.

"For one thing, I think the cases would be thrown out of court because
you can't prove the person was intoxicated, because they could have
used 30 days before then," said Christopher Kenner of Rancho
Cucamonga, who takes medicinal marijuana to relieve pain from

In explaining her reasoning behind the the legislation, Torres cites
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data reporting that 30
percent of all drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes in California
in 2010 tested positive for legal and or illegal drugs.

Torres said enacting the bill would help with data collection efforts
on whether driving under the influence of marijuana contributes to
fatal crashes.

"One of the problems we faced as we continue to research this issue is
that data specifically related to marijuana is not being collected,"
Torres said. "That's something we're looking at in this process."

The bill is getting fierce opposition from marijuana legalization
groups, such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana
Laws (NORML) and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

The effect of Torres's bill, said Dale Gieringer, director of NORML in
California, would essentially be to criminalize every pot user in
California who drives.

"If they want to make a lot more criminals, this is a great crime
creator," Gieringer said. "We'll have a lot more criminals in
California who haven't done anything. If you made an alcohol analogy
for this bill, it would be searching for people's garbage and finding
an empty beer bottle and automatically assuming they were DUI. We'll
just assume you're driving under the influence."

Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML expects to testify against
the bill at the Assembly Public Safety Committee soon.

"It's discriminatory, in that it would lower the burden of proof that
is necessary for a state to gain a DUI conviction by setting a
standard divorced from demonstrable impairment," Armentano said.

Stephen Downing, former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police
Department and a member of LEAP, calls the legislation "cruel" and
"tyrannical." He said the group is gathering signatures from its law
enforcement membership for a letter outlining its objections to the
bill that will be sent to Torres soon.

It is currently illegal to drive under the influence of any drug or
alcohol. Downing said officers are trained to make that determination
through observation and constitutional policing methods that include
probable cause to stop, detain, test and arrest those under the influence.

Torres said she intends that the bill not impact those that utilize
marijuana medicinally. She admits the bill language is "not perfect"
and there is room for amendment.

"We still can't ignore the fact that driving under the influence is a
growing problem that we need to address," she said. She added, "I
think it's in everyone's best interest, that whatever solution we come
up with, it's something that will benefit our community as a whole."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.