Cannabis Advocates Concerned About DUI In Legalization Bill


​​A group of prominent marijuana activists in Washington state on Thursday signed a letter expressing concern about proposed THC blood limits that would codify driving under the influence (DUI) levels in the state.

“We applaud your willingness to stand up for the repeal of marijuana prohibition,” reads the letter, addressed to the sponsors of marijuana legalization initiative New Approach Washington. “However, we are very concerned about New Approach Washington’s proposal regarding Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis or DUIC.”
The initiative, I-502, would establish a THC blood limit of five nanograms per milliliter (5 ng/ml) in drivers 21 and over. That level is reduced to 0.00 for drivers under age 21.

Patients Against New Approach Washington

“Initiative 502 creates a new law that makes it illegal to drive with 5 ng/ml of active THC in your bloodstream, even if you are not impaired,” the group Patients Against New Approach Washington says on its Facebook page. “That level is NOT supported by science and would subject patients to highly-invasive blood testing, unnecessary confinement and a criminal conviction that will haunt them for life. 
“What’s worse is the ZERO tolerance clause for those under age 21,” Patients Against NAW says. “Drivers in this age bracket will be guilty of DUI if even the smallest amount of cannabis is found in their system. Anything over 0.00 in fact. In other words, a designated driver subjected to second-hand cannabis smoke would be held criminally liable for the activities of others.”
​”In other words, if you are under age 21 and behind the wheel of a car, you cannot have any amount of cannabis in your system at any point in time,” the letter reads. “If even a trace amount is found in your blood, you are guilty of a gross misdemeanor.”
According to the letter, zero-tolerance DUIC means a designated driver who consumed no cannabis at all could still be punished, simply for being around marijuana smoke.
“This should be troubling to anyone who seeks to protect the public,” the letter reads.
“After further review of the research provided by New Approach Washington, we believe patients and drivers under 21 years of age face an unusually high risk of being above I-502’s limit, even iuf they are not impaired,” the letter reads. “Your organization cites two specific studies on its FAQ page about DUIC. One is a meta-analysis of 90 studies by Grotenherman et. al.(1) The other is a study by Karschner(2) of 25 frequent, long-term users.”
According to the letter, the following are unanswered questions surrounding this research:
• Please see the enclosed Executive Summary. The first page discusses zero tolerance DUIC. In the third-to-last paragraph, researchers state “This strict approach facilitates law enforcement but is not based on science and does not target impaired drivers.” It goes on to say “the same applies to the increasing number of individuals who legally use cannabis for medicinal purposes and, while not acutely impaired, may present measurable THC concentrations at all times.”
• On page 16 of the report, in the section titled “Empirical Research on Cannabis and  Driving,” scientists conclude that “the evidence from epidemiological studies on cannabis and accident risk is still much less conclusive than for alcohol and alone is insufficient for adopting a science-based legal limit for THC in blood.”
• On page 31, under the heading “Summary and Discussion of Findings,” the first sentence reads: “Scientific evidence on cannabis and driving is not yet sufficient to permit the selection of a numerical enforceable THC limit with the same level of confidence as for alcohol.”
• Twenty-five frequent, long-term cannabis users resided at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Participants were under continuous surveillance to prevent self-administration of cannabis.Their blood samples were frozen for 5 years. No physical exams were performed to assess impairment when the samples were frozen or compared.
• Sixteen out of 25 participants (64 percent) tested positive for THC, but not necessarily on the first day. This indicates that THC levels are likely to rise as your body rids itself of stored cannabis. These levels are independent of last usage.
• Six of the study participants (24 percent) displayed detectable THC concentrations 6 full days after entering the unit. This is of great concern when considering a zero tolerance limit for drivers under age 21.
• It is important to note that frequent, long term cannabis users are similar to medical cannabis patients, but they are not exact matches. The users in the Karschner study did not have a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis. To date, no research has been done to accurately determine the impairment level of medical cannabis patients.
“We also want to highlight a study from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which we’ve included for your evaluation(3),” the letter reads. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was appointed by the Federal Government to study ‘Marijuana and Actual Driving Performance.’ One of the main objectives was ‘to determine whether it is possible to predict driving impairment by plasma concentrations of THC and/or its metabolite, THC-COOH, in single samples.
“The report says ‘the answer is very clear,’ ” the letter reads. “Researchers found that “it is not possible to conclude anything about a driver’s impairment on the basis of his/her plasma concentrations.”

“Perhaps most importantly, the above studies (along with expert testimony and other pertinent research) led the Colorado Legislature to scrap its plan to implement the very same DUI limit proposed by New Approach Washington,” the letter rightly points out. “Because the science is considered murky by some, lawmakers appointed an eight-person committee to study the issue in depth.
“This working group was unable to come to a consensus and chose to recommend that no limit be set at this time(4,5),” the letter reads.
“We understand the need for DUI laws, especially as they relate to the legalization of cannabis, but we beg you to take a closer look at the system that is already in place,” the letter reads. “Washington has some of the safest roads in the country. We think our current DUI laws play a role in that. Why fix something that isn’t broken?”
“If establishing a new DUI law is absolutely necessary, it’s important to remember those with terminal and debilitating diseases,” the letter reads. “When you’re sick, mobility is challenging enough. Without safe, reliable and timely transportatio
n, patients can’t get to the doctor; a trip to the pharmacy becomes a near impossibility; getting around independently simply won’t be an option for many.
“Thanks to the compassion shown by a majority of Washington voters, our choice to medicate with a non-toxic herb is no longer a crime,” the letter reads. “Please don’t support a new law that would once again make patients criminals.”

Signing the letter were Richard Bayer, MD, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine; David G. Arganian, attorney at law, specializing in DUI defense; Ric Smith, medical marijuana patient advocate since 1996; Vivian McPeak, executive director Seattle Hempfest; Gil Mobley, MD, Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians; and Jeffrey Steinborn, Esq., NORML Legal Committee and Board of Directors.
For more information about the Facebook group Patients Against New Approach Washington, you can visit their Facebook page:

(1) Grotenhermen, et. al., “Developing Science-Based Per Se Limits for Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis (DUIC),” 2005 [PDF]
(2) Karschner, et. al., “Do Delta-9 THC Concentrations Indicate Recent Use in Chronic Cannabis Users?” AddictionDecember 2009, 104(12):2041-8
(5) Marijuana DUIC Workgroup Recommendation Summary, Elliot and Smith, 2011