Marijuana as Medicine Needs Rules to Drive By

Jul 2, 2012

Let’s start by stat­ing that dri­ving while impaired by drugs or alco­hol is a crime and must be pun­ished. All 50 U.S. states have clear laws pro­hibit­ing this activ­ity. But there is one intox­i­cant that is trick­ier than the oth­ers: mar­i­juana, espe­cially when used for med­ical pur­poses. Dur­ing the past two years, Col­orado and Mon­tana, along with more than a dozen other states, have pro­posed laws that set a strict thresh­old for deter­min­ing when a mar­i­juana user is deemed too impaired to drive. These would con­sider a con­cen­tra­tion of more than 5 nanograms of tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol, or THC (the psy­choac­tive com­po­nent of mar­i­juana) per mil­li­liter of blood, as hands-down proof of intox­i­ca­tion or impair­ment. The result would be an auto­matic guilty ver­dict, with all that entails: a tem­po­rary loss of dri­ving priv­i­leges, fines, lawyer’s fees, pos­si­ble jail time and greatly increased insur­ance pre­mi­ums. By some esti­mates, a con­vic­tion for dri­ving under the influ­ence (DUI) can cost a dri­ver as much as $10,000. Sev­eral states are going fur­ther and have either adopted or are con­sid­er­ing zero-tolerance laws for THC lev­els. This means any THC in the blood would result in a con­vic­tion. Here’s the prob­lem with these laws: There are ques­tions about how, and at what level, cannabis use impairs dri­ving abil­ity. For a patient in one of the 17 states where mar­i­juana has been legal­ized for med­i­c­i­nal use, how are you to know when it’s legal to drive? After con­sum­ing mar­i­juana, should you wait 12 hours to drive or one day? When will your THC level be below the 5-nanogram thresh­old? The answer is com­pli­cated. Chronic Users Although mar­i­juana is read­ily detectable in tox­i­col­ogy tests of blood, hair, urine or saliva, what isn’t clear is just how quickly THC passes through the body. We know, for exam­ple, that THC may be detected in the blood of occa­sional users sev­eral hours after ingest­ing. But in some chronic users there may be traces for days after the last use, long after any performance-impairing effects have sub­sided. This is a very clear con­trast with alco­hol. There is a firm under­stand­ing of the rate at which the body metab­o­lizes alco­hol and there are well-known guide­lines on how much time must pass after drink­ing before one is fit to drive. Tests can eas­ily be admin­is­tered in road­side stops. Those who fail sim­ple bench­marks of sobri­ety — not to men­tion breath tests — are usu­ally con­victed or plead guilty. The research on how mar­i­juana affects dri­ving is far less con­clu­sive, though. Test­ing done on dri­vers under the influ­ence of alco­hol often show that dri­vers dis­play more aggres­sive behav­ior behind the wheel, and errors are more pro­nounced than when sober. The oppo­site tends to be true when dri­vers are under the influ­ence of THC; they tend to have height­ened aware­ness — rather than dimin­ished sen­si­tiv­ity as they do after drink­ing — to their sur­round­ings. As a result, they tend to com­pen­sate by dri­ving more cau­tiously. A 2007 con­trol study pub­lished in the Cana­dian Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health reviewed 10 years of U.S. auto-fatality data. Inves­ti­ga­tors found that U.S. dri­vers with blood-alcohol lev­els of 0.05 per­cent — a level below the national 0.08 per­cent legal limit — were three times as likely to have been dri­ving unsafely before a fatal crash, com­pared with indi­vid­u­als who tested pos­i­tive for mar­i­juana. What this means is that we need more research before new DUI mar­i­juana laws are enacted. Set­ting an absolute impair­ment stan­dard for THC blood­stream lev­els is pre­ma­ture. And these laws, which tar­get mar­i­juana use and asso­ci­ated med­ical mar­i­juana patients, are dis­crim­i­na­tory. Pain Killers I say this at a time when there is an absence of leg­is­la­tion deal­ing with the use and well-documented abuse of pre­scrip­tion painkillers, which can dan­ger­ously impair the judg­ment needed for safe dri­ving. State leg­is­la­tures aren’t set­ting arbi­trary and sci­en­tif­i­cally unproven blood-level stan­dards for these drugs. So why are they focused on mar­i­juana? Dri­ving while intox­i­cated must any­where and every­where be ille­gal, whether that impair­ment is caused by pre­scrip­tion drugs, alco­hol pur­chased at a liquor store or mar­i­juana used on the rec­om­men­da­tion of a doc­tor. Under cur­rent stan­dards, some­one can be charged with DUI for mar­i­juana use based on road­side sobri­ety tests and obser­va­tions by the arrest­ing offi­cer in con­junc­tion with blood sam­ples. Those tests serve their pur­pose at this point. But if states are going to turn to strict thresh­old laws, they should answer this ques­tion: Based solely on THC con­cen­tra­tions in blood from mar­i­juana, when is a dri­ver too impaired to drive safely? Until the evi­dence is in, it’s hard to see why any state needs to lower the bur­den of proof nec­es­sary to con­vict some­one of a DUI mar­i­juana charge. Robert Frich­tel is man­ag­ing part­ner of the Med­ical Mar­i­juana Busi­ness Exchange. The opin­ions expressed are his own. Source: Bloomberg​.com (USA) Author: Robert Frich­tel Pub­lished: July 1, 2012 Copy­right: 2012 Bloomberg L.P. Con­tact: robert@​mymmjexchange.​com Web­site: http://​www​.bloomberg​.com/

73c0d9be6cjuana2.jpg 150x111 Marijuana as Medicine Needs Rules to Drive By

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Mar­i­juana as Med­i­cine Needs Rules to Drive By

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