Pubdate: Sun, 11 May 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Page: C6
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


Drivers Can Test Positive for Marijuana Weeks After It Has Been Consumed

WASHINGTON - Josephine Drum says her daughter was "cheated out of 
life" when she was killed while driving to work in downtown Seattle 
in 2012, hit by a man in a Jeep whose blood tested positive for marijuana.

"I feel if you smoke marijuana and you have to smoke it, that you 
should not be able to drive under the influence," said Drum, of 
Stockton, Calif. "I'm 84 years old. To have lost my daughter is 
something hard for me to accept."

With the push to legalize marijuana surging in popularity, states 
want to assure the public that roads will be safe. But they face a 
perplexing question: How stoned is too stoned to drive?

"The answer is: Pretty damned stoned is not as dangerous as drunk," 
said Mark Kleiman, professor of public policy at the University of 
California, Los Angeles, who served as Washington state's top pot consultant.

He said Washington state has a law that's far too strict and could 
lead to convictions of sober drivers, with many not even knowing 
whether they're abiding by the law.

Seeking reasonable limits

With no conclusive research, states are all over the map as they try 
to assess intoxication by measuring blood levels of THC, the main 
ingredient in marijuana.

There's no easy way to do it, with marijuana stored in fat cells and 
detectable in blood long after it's smoked or consumed, for days or 
weeks, depending on individual tolerance and level of use.

Washington state and Colorado, the only two states to fully legalize 
marijuana, have set a limit of 5 nanograms of active THC per 
milliliter of blood. In Washington state, legalization proponents 
included the language in the ballot initiative approved by voters in 2012.

"It appealed to the voters, but it's nonsense - it's not a good 
measure of whether somebody's impaired or not," Kleiman said. "The 
fact that legislatures will not do their job on this means we go 
through the cockamamie initiative process - it's a lousy way to write 

In California, much to Drum's disappointment, lawmakers earlier this 
month rejected an even tougher standard. The state's Assembly 
Committee on Public Safety voted to kill a bill that would have set 
the limit at 2 nanograms per milliliter of blood, rejecting the pleas 
of police officers.

And in Arizona, the state Supreme Court last month struck down part 
of the state's zero-tolerance law, saying it could result in 
convictions of sober drivers.

Limits of enforcement

Some legalization proponents ridicule the statutes as "sober DUI" laws.

"What we have to understand is that arbitrary rules or zero tolerance 
lead to unconstitutional policing," said Diane Goldstein of Tustin, 
Calif., a former police lieutenant and a member of Law Enforcement 
Against Prohibition, a pro-legalization group that opposes the laws.

While police can use Breathalyzers to easily measure the amount of 
alcohol in one's bloodstream, the best way to determine marijuana 
intoxication is by examining a blood sample.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court complicated the situation for 
states by ruling that police must get a warrant before testing blood for a DUI.

"Drawing blood is not a roadside activity for a cop," Kleiman said. 
"Drawing blood is a medical procedure, and you need a licensed 
phlebotomist. So you're not going to be able to do stoned-driving checkpoints."

Ultimately, he said, a mouth swab that uses a driver's saliva to 
detect the presence of marijuana may be the answer, if test results 
can be used to track impairment.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom