Sparks might fly as lawmakers later this month hear a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable trace of marijuana or other illegal drugs in the blood, regardless of the driver’s actual impairment.
Marijuana advocates say this “zero tolerance” bill, to be heard April 23 by the state Senate Public Safety Committee, overlooks the fact that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana compounds in the blood.
Unlike alcohol, THC blood levels have no direct relation to the actual dosage consumed or active in the body, they say. Instead, levels spike right after smoking but then decline quickly to lower levels within an hour or so regardless of dosage, and can remain in the blood anywhere from eight to 12 hours in occasional users and six days or more in regular users – including those who use it medicinally – long after any impairment has faded.
“In effect, SB 289 is equivalent to calling drivers DUI if they’ve had a glass of beer or wine in the past few hours, or left an empty bottle in their trash,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said in a news release. “The science is clear that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana in the blood.”
“Driving under the influence of illegal drugs is dangerous and cannot be tolerated,” Correa, D-Santa Ana, said in a news release when he introduced the bill in February. “Creating a zero tolerance drugged driving policy will equip law enforcement with the tools needed to keep our communities and roads safe.”
In most states, a driver is guilty of driving under the influence if the state proves the driver was actually impaired at the time of arrest. But under SB 289, California would join 17 other states which have made it illegal to drive a vehicle if the driver’s blood contains any detectable amount of Schedule I, II, III or IV drugs.
Correa’s news release noted the bill excludes medicine used with a valid prescription issued by a licensed health care practitioner. Californians voted in 1996 to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, but it remains on Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act – the most restrictive category for controlled substances, encompassing drugs defined as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.