Illinois is a zero tolerance state when it comes to driving with marijuana in your blood. In other words, you can smoke pot late one Saturday night and be charged with a DUI a week later because it was still in your blood system. I have blogged about this before, including this memorable post about a young woman who received a seven year sentence after being involved in a fatal crash several days after smoking cannabis.
But now that other states are allowing for medical marijuana, or legalizing it, those states are debating “legal limits” for cannabis.
Washington TV station KIRO TV ran their own tests, which showed that coming up with a legal limit isn’t easy, because everyone has different tolerances.
There have been some interesting blog posts in response to KIRO’s report.
Jacob Sullum on Reason.com has an interesting discussion, including these thoughts:
the fact that “the intoxicating effects of marijuana vary…from person to person,” which helps explain how Norton was still OK to drive at 36.7 nanograms, is relevant, but it cuts both ways. Perhaps some people are impaired at five nanograms, but it seems clear that many are not. Setting a low cutoff may seem like erring on the side of caution, but that is true only if you discount the injustice of arresting and punishing people for driving under the influence when they do not actually pose a hazard to others. The variation in responses to marijuana, which is partly a function of tolerance and experience … but also due to pre-existing differences, argues against having any sort of per se standard.
Over on Mother Jones’ website, Josh Harkinson points out that:
Ten states, many of which have legalized medical marijuana, simply make it illegal to drive with any trace of marijuana in your blood. Other states essentially regulate the drug like alcohol, requiring drivers to stay below a set limit of cannabinoids in their blood. When Washington voters legalized pot last November, they also outlawed driving with a blood THC level over 5 nanograms per milliliter—about half the level detected in Koon. Ohio and Nevada’s limit is even stricter: 2 ng/ml. These rules appeal to a public accustomed to drunk-driving standards, and they give police a simple benchmark for making arrests.
But these approaches don’t account for what scientists know about marijuana’s effects on drivers. “The reality is that alcohol and cannabis are two very different drugs that affect people in very different ways,” says Jan Ramaekers, a psychology and neuroscience professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. A 2009 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that THC can persist in chronic pot smokers’ blood for a week after they stop smoking, sometimes at levels in excess of 3 ng/ml. Other research shows that those residual blood levels (and sometimes even much higher levels) don’t impair most heavy users’ psychomotor skills. If the goal is to arrest only people who are driving dangerously, Ramaekers says, then laws like Washington’s could lead to a rash of false convictions.While booze can make people drive faster and more aggressively, marijuana has the opposite effect: Pot smokers, studies show, tend to compensate for their impairment by slowing down and leaving larger gaps between themselves and other cars. Still, Ramaekers cautions against thinking that stoners acting like Sunday drivers are safer. Marijuana users may “try to create their own box of safety, and within that world they can operate fine,” he says. “But there’s a lot of other information outside of that box that they can’t process, and that is a problem.”
What do you think?