Marijuana Impairment Tests for Drivers: A Work In Progress
The Maine Association of Dispensary Operators (MEADO) serves over 10,000 Mainers with a common age between 40 and 55 years old along with the eight medical marijuana dispensaries managed by DHHS. Collectively we employ 75 people and provide top shelf quality medicine to our patients, free of any harmful components during the cultivation process. We are proud in serving our communities and work closely with regulators and law enforcement to secure safe and dependable access to medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana can be prescribed under strict physician or physician assistant care under a 2009 law passed by Maine voters, enabling patients whose physicians believe they will benefit from the medical use of pot to access it from dispensaries. There is a limited list of conditions for which a physician or nurse practitioner may grant the use of medical cannabis. That list includes cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, nail-patella syndrome, intractable pain, and PTSD.
MEADO backs the attempt to help fight against driving while under the influence of any substance, including cannabis. However, “per se” OUI limits, such as those used to determine if your impaired from alcohol, have shown not to be effective in determining if you are under the influence of cannabis, and should not be introduced. Scientifically sound roadside methods for determining impairment from marijuana does not exist today.
This is definitely one place where we should not “regulate cannabis like alcohol.”
Alcohol is the one thing where there is a scientific accord about a blood-content level which tie in reliably to an unacceptable level of driver intoxication. And it is the only substance for which there is a nimble, safe, roadside structure to test a driver’s Blood Alcohol Content usually after they have failed the Average Field Sobriety Tests.
The correlation halts there because with pot, signs of past use—including the presence of metabolites in the blood—do not correspond with actual current intoxication in the same way that is true for alcohol. If a blood level evaluation is used as other states have done, a marijuana user will likely test far above that average level, and possibly for as long as several weeks after recent intoxication, long after any side effects have subsided. Because of the way pot is kept in the body’s fat cells and released slowly, blood tests will give a “false positive” more often than not.
Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave warning against the imposition of impairment standards for drugs other than alcohol, and it did so very recently. In a November 2014 a white paper entitled “Understanding the Limitations of Drug Test Information, Stating, and Testing Practices in Fatal Crashes,” NHTSA researchers stated, “Current knowledge about the effects of drugs other than alcohol on driving abilities are faulty to make judgments about connections between drug use, driving performance, and crash risk.”
Fortunately, while we wait for the science to catch up, there are other ways that the legislature could consider, including the following:
▪ Medical marijuana dispensaries and many others in this business already provide knowledge on safe marijuana practices, involving warnings about operating under the influence. All cannabis retailers should be authorized to provide the same type of education.
▪ Tax proceeds or some portion of the existing fees collected from medical cannabis caregivers could be dedicated to the construction of Public Service Announcements (PSAs). These and any other educational components should place a strong presences on being aware and preventing operating impaired.
▪ Current Field Sobriety Tests could be viewed to determine whether they appropriately measure real-time marijuana intoxication, and altered if any one of the three main FSTs (walk & turn, balance on one leg, horizontal eye tracking) fails to prove being under the influence of marijuana
No one wants intoxicated drivers on our roads.
Mainers must maintain keeping the roads safe by all reasonable precautions, and law enforcement would benefit from a clear and reliable scientific process to determine hazardous impairment. However, when this science is not available, we must defend against the production of a new and arbitrary way of criminalizing those who use marijuana medicinal or recreational responsibly. Otherwise, thousands of Mainers will abruptly be deemed a danger to our roadways when they are more than fine to operate a vehicle after taking a medical cannabis treatment the day or week before.
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