Pubdate: Fri, 01 Jul 2016
Source: Sun, The (Yuma, AZ)
Copyright: 2016 The Sun
Author: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services


Levels of Impairment Not Defined

PHOENIX - The campaign to allow recreational use of marijuana is on 
amid questions of whether the measure would allow people to legally 
drive while under the influence of the drug.

Supporters on Thursday submitted what they said were petitions with 
258,582 signatures seeking to change the law. That is more than 
100,000 more than the secretary of state's office needs to declare 
valid to put the issue on the November ballot.

But amid the nearly 10,000-word proposal is language saying that 
individuals cannot be penalized solely because they test positive for 
not just marijuana metabolites that are left over weeks after using 
the drug, but the actual "components of marijuana." And that would 
include tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC), the psychoactive element of the drug.

Despite that, attorney Ryan Hurley, who represents the Campaign to 
Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, insisted this would not permit 
drugged driving. He pointed out that the measure also says the law 
would not immunize someone from being charged with operating a motor 
vehicle "while impaired by marijuana or a marijuana product."

But Hurley acknowledged that there is nothing in the proposal to 
define what level of marijuana makes someone "impaired."

He said the legislature could enact a specific standard at which 
someone is presumed impaired.

That's the situation with alcohol, where a blood-alcohol content of 
0.08 is considered a "per se limit" which allows a court, absent any 
other evidence, to conclude someone was driving while impaired.

"No they can't," countered Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, 
a foe of legalized recreational marijuana. He said the language of 
the ballot measure itself precludes that.

"It says you can't be penalized solely on the basis of the presence 
of the metabolites or marijuana," he said.

"A per se limit does exactly that," Montgomery said. "It says if you 
have this much THC (in) nanograms per milliliter or over (in your 
blood), you are impaired."

And there's something else: Even if lawmakers would approve a 
presumptive limit, the actual number could be challenged by 
supporters of marijuana use as arbitrary.

In Colorado, which legalized recreational use of the drug, the law 
says drivers with five nanograms of active THC in their blood can be 
prosecuted for driving under the influence of drugs.

"However, no matter the level of THC, law enforcement officers base 
arrests on observed impairment," according to the Colorado Department 
of Transportation.

Much of the debate that will play out between now and the November 
election will be on the pros and cons of legalized recreational use 
of the drug. That will include debate over whether marijuana is 
better or worse than alcohol which - like marijuana would be if this 
measure is approved - is legal for adults.

But there's another issue that is likely to generate some opposition.

The measure would limit the number of places where marijuana could 
legally be sold to something in the 150 range, at least until 2020. 
That is based on a prohibition capping dispensaries at no more than 
10 percent of the number of places that can sell alcohol for 
offpremises consumption.

Potentially more significant, the initiative gives first preference 
for these limited number of licenses to the owners of the 99 medical 
marijuana dispensaries already in operation. And more than a dozen of 
the five-figure donations that have come in to put the measure on the 
ballot are from these dispensaries.

But J.P. Holyoak, who chairs the initiative campaign, said this is 
not any sort of restraint of trade.

"This is in no way, shape or form an oligarchy or a cartel," he said.

Holyoak said the limit exists to protect neighborhoods.

"Do we want marijuana stores or dispensaries on every other corner?" 
he said. "Or is this something that should remain in a taxed, 
regulated and limited basis so that it's not on every other street corner?"

By way of comparison, the web site lists about 170 
dispensaries in Denver, though it says 71 of these sell only to 
medical marijuana patients. Holyoak said initiative organizers here 
believe that's too much and that 150 for the entire state is 
sufficient, at least for the time being.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom