Posted April 24, 2013 by evergreen-culture in Policy

The Per Se Driving Limit Debate


major issue in both WA and CO around the repeal of state-level marijuana prohibition is the subject of driving and what is the fairest and safest means of determining impairment. Colorado held a special assembly of their state senate earlier this year in order to pass what is called a “per se” driving law in the wake of their legalization of cannabis in their state – it failed to be enacted in a 17-17 vote. Per se is Latin for “by itself” and is used to signify when a single indication’s presence alone, needing no other indications, is enough to determine if the person in question is inside or outside of the law. Blood alcohol levels are a per se law regarding drunk driving. If you demonstrate a blood alcohol level or .08 or higher (in WA for instance) you are guilty of driving while intoxicated, period. No other factors need to be present – the blood alcohol level makes you guilty “by itself”. This is the type of thinking that has guided both CO and WA when considering marijuana and driving. The intent is to instill a per se law that sets a hard limit on what makes a driver impaired or not. The problem is, when it comes to how the body metabolizes a substance like THC versus alcohol, it is like dealing with apples and oranges. So, while emotion would dictate, just slap some limit on there, actual studies, scientific knowledge and medical understanding throws a huge wrench into those works – and thus CO’s trouble in passing this legislature. They simply have too many reasonable people on board to settle for lazy, pandering legislature. On April 22nd, CO held another vote, this time seeing the per se limit shot down 4-1 in a vote held by the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee. There simply are many on both sides of the political aisle in CO that are not comfortable with the per se limits being proposed.

The crux of the issue is how to determine impairment in people who are suspected of driving under the influence of cannabis. The proposed level – in both CO and WA is 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Is this an issue? It depends on who you ask. Studies have been done (here is one such study out of our brethren to the north which demonstrates the huge differences between alcohol+driving risks versus cannabis+driving risks). Some say that most cannabis consumers would fall below the 5 ng/ml level after 1-2 hours and thus the current limits being discussed are not problematic (safety is their aim). Others bring up that medical patients who typically consume more and more often would test positive even though they aren’t impaired due to the different way your body absorbs and metabolizes the main psychoactive in marijuana, THC (fairness and ensuring people aren’t subject to injustice is their aim). Both have to be considered in our view. We at Evergreen Culture believe that we need appropriate and fair legislation around this issue – it simply has to be a part of the overall repeal process as our society demands it, and it is the right thing to do. That isn’t the issue. The issue is what levels should be settled upon.

There are major voices on both sides of the debate – there are some pro-marijuana advocates who line up with the 5 ng/ml levels, while there are others who feel more investigation and thoughtfulness needs to go into the decision. The point is to ensure your opinion is based on a careful investigation of the facts and the data that is available. If you conclude that the 5 ng/ml limit is fair and best, great. And if after looking you feel different, that is great as well.

It is clear, at least to us, that we need something in place to ensure legality on the road for the sake of public and personal safety. Take a look at what’s out there, come to an informed opinion, and then let your state and local government representatives know about it.

For further information, read the article linked in our post with comments about marijuana and driving laws
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