Los Angeles, CA- Lawmakers in California are considering a bill that would allow police to charge anyone with a detectable amount of marijuana, prescription drugs or other controlled substances with a DUI regardless of whether they are actually impaired at the time of their arrest.
Assembly Bill 2500, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), would make it illegal to driver with even a trace amount THC—the active ingredient in marijuana—and other prescription drugs such as Ambien or Vicodin.
California is just one among many states to recently introduce legislation intended on cracking down on drugged drivers. Vermont introduced similar legislation last month which has actually failed to gain traction. Last December, lawmakers in Oklahoma passed a comparable bill. And as support for decriminalization and broader legalization of marijuana grows, bills like this will continue to be introduced through state legislatures.
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is risky, but legislation like A.B. 2500 fails to recognize how the body metabolizes different substances and could see a large number of people unjustly charged with DUI. It is in the interest of public safety to keep drugged drivers off the road, but there is also the danger that innocent people will be punished for past behaviors instead of actually breaking the law.
Laws like A.B. 2500 fly in the face of scientific facts which show that the mere presence of marijuana or other prescription drugs in a person’s body doesn’t mean they are intoxicated or impaired. Alcohol and drugs are metabolized differently by the body and unlike alcohol, having trace about of a prescription drug or marijuana doesn’t not necessarily mean a driver is intoxicated.
It’s important to note that the legislation only requires a “zero-tolerance” standard for drugs while making in perfectly acceptable to drive with alcohol in a person’s system as long as they don’t exceed the .08 legal limit for blood alcohol concentration. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect a person’s driving skills.
According to the National Traffic Safety Board, drivers with BAC of .01 displayed attention problems and lane deviations in driving simulators. Additionally, at 0.02, drivers exhibit drowsiness, and at 0.04, drivers become much less aware.
While scientists struggle to determine what amount of THC in a person’s system would indicate impairment, recent studies have shown that THC concentrations of 5 Nano grams per milliliter of blood doesn’t affect a person’s ability to drive safely. The risk of causing a crash rises as a driver reaches 10 Nano grams per milliliter of blood.
The 5 Nano gram per milliliter standard was used by both Washington state and Colorado when they were crafting their marijuana DUI laws. But A.B. 2500 doesn’t establish such a standard and a person can face a DUI days after they smoke marijuana or took a prescription drug.
Any person wrongfully charged with drugged driving under new tougher laws can fight the charges and possibly avoid conviction when they retain a DUI attorney to build a strong defense.