California state assembly strikes down marijuana DUI bill


Photo: Alejandro Mejía Greene/JubiloHaku via Flickr Creative Commons

The Public Safety Committee in the California state legislature shot down AB2500 last week, a bill crafted by Assemblyman Jim Frazier that would have made driving with any trace of THC in your system illegal, and punishable by DUI conviction.
Frazier attempted to lump cannabis in with actual drugs like meth, cocaine, and heroin in a bill that was unreasonably strict, even after Frazier’s original language for it got slashed for being so unjust.

Here is just a small example of how the bill’s original language was changed. The words that are struck out were omitted from the final reading of the bill, and the words in bold were added to the final version.

This bill would make it unlawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle if his or her blood contains any detectable amount specified amounts of amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin or their metabolites, morphine, phencyclidine, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol of marijuana or any other drug classified in Schedules I, II, III, or IV of the California Uniform Controlled Substance Act marijuana. By expanding the scope of the crime of driving under the influence of a drug, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

As you can see, Frazier swung for the fences and all but struck out. But while we are using terrible sports analogies, he did succeed in moving the goalposts of the debate, making any sort of “compromise” on AB2500 still seem like an excessive abuse of DUI laws in the state.
Frazier wanted a DUI conviction for any driver showing any trace amount of THC in the bloodstream, the “compromise” was a 2 nanogram limit per milliliter of blood sampled. That is half of what other states, such as Colorado and Washington, have proposed.
As we know, 2 nanograms or 4, it really makes no difference as both limits ignore the science behind how cannabis affects the body. Toke of the Town editor William Breathes ran his own experiment back in 2011, when he abstained from the ganja for over 15 hours, including a full night’s sleep. He was deemed sober by a registered physician and was administered a blood test to check for the THC levels in his system. At the time, Colorado was proposing a 5 nanogram limit, and WB clocked in at 13.5 nanograms, nearly three times the proposed legal limit.
So when AB2500 reared its ugly head, pro-cannabis advocacy groups came rushing to the defense of medical marijuana patients, and common sense. NORML released a statement saying, “Because THC remains detectable in the bloodstream for hours or days after use, well after deleterious effects have faded, the bill would make marijuana users liable for DUI regardless of whether they were actually impaired at the time.”
They also added, “Even while marijuana usage has been increasing over the past decade, accident rates and DUI arrests in California have been declining. Some experts speculate that this may be because drivers are substituting marijuana for alcohol. In any case, the evidence seems clear that marijuana isn’t causing an epidemic of accidents.”
A 2012 state-funded roadside study found that 7% of California drivers had weed in their system. Most people will agree that for certain people, there is such a thing as being “too high” to drive safely, but if that number is a fraction of 7%, we are hardly dealing with an epidemic.
Additionally, that disparity in effects from person to person only serves to further delegitimize any kind of one-size-fits-all THC-test. Timothy Fong, an addiction psychologist at UCLA, says, “Most of the marijuana testing has been done in human laboratories, and there you get a wide variety [of reactions]. So if you take 100 people and have the same blood level of marijuana, you’ll have 100 different reactions.”
Fortunately, AB2500 was put to rest by a vote of 4-2 in the Assembly Public Safety Committee before it could be unleashed on California’s roadways.