Pubdate: Mon, 16 May 2016
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2016 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Author: Gillian Graham
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


Experts and law enforcement officers will gather to discuss ways to 
improve highway safety as Maine considers legal marijuana.

Experts and law enforcement officers will gather Monday in Portland 
to discuss how to improve highway safety as more drivers get behind 
the wheel after using marijuana and other drugs.

The impaired-driving summit, sponsored by AAA Northern New England 
and the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, will focus on new research 
and approaches to deal with drivers who are under the influence. With 
the prospect of marijuana legalization in the state, the summit will 
focus largely on cannabis-impaired driving, according to organizers.

The summit comes less than a week after AAA released a new study that 
finds blood tests are useless for detecting pot-based operating under 
the influence and as Maine voters consider whether to legalize 
recreational marijuana.

"We are dialing in on marijuana as the state prepares for the 
potential passage of the (legalization) ballot initiative this 
November," said Pat Moody, director of public affairs for AAA 
Northern New England. "There is a need to make sure we are prepared 
to deal with the challenges that will come if Maine legalizes the 
recreational use of marijuana."

In November, voters will decide if Maine should join Colorado, 
Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia in allowing 
adult use of marijuana. Maine has allowed medical marijuana since 1999.

Even before the legalization referendum qualified for the ballot, 
legislators were looking at how to deal with the issue of people 
driving while impaired by marijuana. Unlike with alcohol, there is 
not a breath test to determine impairment. Experts say it is 
difficult to set legal limits for the concentration of 
tetrahydrocannabinol - or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in 
marijuana - in the blood because THC affects everyone differently and 
is detectable in tests long after a person stops being impaired.

The Legislature considered a bill to set a 5-nanogram limit in 
drivers' blood, but it was rejected by the House last month. 
Currently, six states - Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania 
and Washington - have set specific limits for THC, the Associated 
Press reported.

The study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says the limits 
have no scientific basis and can result in innocent drivers being 
convicted, and in guilty drivers being released.

Police currently use a drug recognition exam on the roadside to 
detect impairment from drugs. But some say officers need better tools 
to stop drugged driving as the culture becomes more accepting of marijuana use.

The summit will bring together more than 200 people - including 
experts, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and defense attorneys 
- - to discuss new research and approaches to combating impaired 
driving. There will be discussions about prescription medication and heroin.

"We wanted a strong focus on drug-impaired driving because of the 
national and local push to legalize recreational marijuana. We expect 
we'll see an increase in the incidents involving law enforcement 
arresting impaired drivers," said Scot Mattox, a traffic safety 
resource prosecutor with the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. "The 
main message is that, regardless of viewpoints on which drugs are 
legal or not, this is something law enforcement and prosecutors are 
tasked with. We want to be prepared."

Recent research into the effect of marijuana use on drivers is mixed, 
although many studies indicate drivers are less impaired by marijuana 
than by alcohol and tend to make fewer risky choices than drunken 
drivers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse maintains that 
marijuana significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination and 
reaction time, but other research shows drivers impaired by marijuana 
overcompensate by driving more slowly and avoiding passing other cars.

The summit will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Abromson 
Center at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom