Pubdate: Tue, 29 Mar 2016
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald (Hilo, HI)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: Cathy Bussewitz, Associated Press


State Lawmakers Ask DOH to Research That Question

HONOLULU (AP) - State lawmakers are asking how much marijuana a 
driver can safely consume before getting behind the wheel of a car.

It's an issue they want to tackle now that the state is setting up 
medical marijuana dispensaries. So, Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, 
North Kohala and South Kohala, and 15 other lawmakers introduced a 
resolution asking the state Department of Health to study whether a 
person can safely drive while under the influence.

Marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently found in the blood of 
drivers who have been involved in accidents, including fatal ones, 
but the role marijuana plays in those accidents is often unclear 
because it can remain in the bloodstream for days and it's often 
combined with alcohol, according to the National Institute on Drug 
Abuse. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 
marijuana use impairs cognitive functions, lane tracking and other 
driving-related skills.

"I think that it's really important that we do this now," Evans said. 
"Hopefully, this is the beginning of the discussion."

For drunk driving, there's a nationally recognized level of 
impairment, which is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams per 
milliliter. But there's no federal rule or widespread consensus about 
what's an acceptable limit for driving under the influence of drugs.

Hawaii law bans people from driving under the influence of a drug 
that impairs their ability to drive, but there isn't a set threshold 
for how much marijuana - medically prescribed or not - is acceptable 
in the blood stream.

Several states passed laws specifying how much marijuana in the blood 
stream is acceptable while driving, but set different limits for how 
much THC - the main psychoactive ingredient of cannabis - in the 
blood would be considered driving under the influence of drugs. 
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Colorado, 
Montana and Washington set the limit at 5 nanograms per milliliter of 
blood, while Nevada and Ohio went with the lower 2 nanograms. Other 
states provide an exemption for medical marijuana patients.

The state DOH opposed the resolution, saying the department doesn't 
have the capacity to study the complicated question, especially 
because the resolution didn't include funding. The department's 
director, Virginia Pressler, said in written testimony that The 
National Institute on Drug Abuse has been studying the issue for many 
years and hasn't been able to establish a recommended level for driving.

Despite the opposition, the House Committee on Transportation passed 
the resolution Monday, sending it to the Committee on Health to keep 
the discussion going, Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Aquino said.

"It's here, so we just wanted to make sure that we have some sort of 
scientific, some sort of data-driven study to being done to address 
this," Aquino said.
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