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Monday, March 12, 2012

Marijuana Sobriety Checkpoints: New Legislation to Outlaw Driving While Stoned

Posted By on Mon, Mar 12, 2012 at 7:05 AM


Some will swear that marijuana has merit for motorists. Others fear impairment of any kind, at any level. We're pretty terrified of teen drivers, especially those with cell phones and hangovers, but we'll leave it to the government to intervene on this great debate.

Under a bill introduced last month by a SoCal assemblywoman, driving while stoned would result in an automatic DUI offense.

The proposed bill would tag this "offense" onto the section of the Vehicle Code that addresses drunk driving. The new section states that any level of "cannabinoids or synthetic cannabinoid compound" found in a driver's blood or urine, up to three hours after a traffic stop, would equate to a DUI, according to AB 2552, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Norma Torres (D-Pomona).

However,cannabinoids remain in the body for days or weeks after consumption, according to California NORML. If passed, Torres' bill would essentially criminalize outright operation of a motor vehicle by any marijuana user. So hopefully tokers know enough beer-drinkers skilled enough to stay under 0.08 to designated-drive them to work.

Torres introduced the bill quietly. No press release accompanied AB 2552's Feb. 27 unveiling.

Torres is a former 911 dispatcher for the LAPD and mayor of Pomona, serving her second term in Sacramento, and is running for reelection this year. Her financial backers include booze, cops, Native Americans, and media. More specifically, tribal committees, NBC Universal, Millercoors, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the Wine Institute, and Anheuser Busch, all of which contributed $1,000 or more to Torres's reelection campaign, according to records.

Word of the bill's existence broke over the weekend among the marijuana community: NORML issued a press release on Saturday, and union organizers pledged to fight the measure with "everything we have," according to Dan Rush, national director of the medical cannabis and hemp division of United Food and Commercial Workers. The union is also fighting a similar bill in Colorado, Rush said.

Torres could not be reached over the weekend. However, judging by the state of her Facebook wall -- currently occupied by unhappy marijuana advocates -- somebody at Torres' office must know this isn't popular with pot users.

The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee in the Assembly. A bill needs to pass committee and both houses of the Legislature before heading to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, whose signature is required in order for the bill to become law.

Technically, it is already a crime to drive stoned: "It is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle," the Vehicle Code says. Thinking liberally, one could interpret this to mean that it's also illegal to drive under the influence of prescription medication, or cough syrup.

It would certainly mean no marijuana user could drive, and would also remove from behind the wheel anyone prescribed Marinol, the synthetic THC pill approved by the FDA.

It's not clear what field sobriety test the state's police, sheriffs, and Highway Patrol would use to ascertain a driver's cannabinoid level. And why would a zero-tolerance policy only be applied to marijuana? "There is no scientific basis for zero tolerance DUI standards," California NORML Director Dale Gieringer wrote in a statement over the weekend.

"There is no relationship between impairment and the presence of cannabinoids in urine," Gieringer wrote. "Secondly, there is no relationship between impairment and the presence of non-psychoactive cannabinoid metabolites in blood. Third, there is extensive evidence that safe driving is not incompatible with low levels of active THC in the blood."

Though if the bill does pass, there's a veritable fortune available for anyone offering rides to festivals, from High Sierra to Gaia to our own Hardly Strictly. Just make sure you pot-test your pedicab operator.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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