Smoking Marijuana a Month Ago Could Get You a DUI Today Under Proposed Law
Updated at the bottom: A group of current and former law enforcement officers has urged the lawmaker to withdraw this bill. First posted at 7:03 a.m.
The problem with lawmakers is that they feel the need to make laws, even when they're unneeded or unfair.
The pro-marijuana group NORML is up in arms this week over a proposal by L.A.-area state assemblywoman Norma J. Torres that would would make it a crime to drive with any level of cannabis in your bloodstream.
While that might sound reasonable, consider:
Marijuana can stay in your bloodstream for two weeks, one month, even longer. (It's why your stoner friends tell you to give it a break for 2-4 weeks before a job interview).
So, let's say you're a perfectly legal medical marijuana user and you have a doctor's appointment two days from now. You put the pipe down and, on that morning, you drive. You're pulled over, your blood or urine is tested, and you're busted for DUI.
But you're not at all high.
"It's ridiculous," California NORML director Dale Gieringer tells the Weekly. "It criminalizes every pot smoker in the state."
They're busting you for being high previously. That's the plan, anyway.
According to the language of Torres' proposal, which we're told is backed (of course) by law enforcement lobbyists:
Norma J. Torres represents Pomona and other points east.
It is unlawful for any person who has any level of cannabinoids or synthetic cannabinoid compound in his or her blood or urine to drive a vehicle ...
Your ass is grass (and not the good kind, either) if weed is ...
... in a person's blood or urine at the time of driving the vehicle if the substance is present at the time of the performance of a chemical test within three hours after driving.
So, basically, if you're a medical pot user you pretty much can't drive.
The backstory here is that cops have had a hard time seeing convictions for pot DUI arrests because there's no scientific standard -- like alcohol's .08 level -- for how much would make you impaired. But ... a jury could still convict you if they believe there was reasonable proof you were stoned behind the wheel.
Also, there is some evidence that stoned-driving accidents are on the rise in California, although cannabis supporters point to research with contrary conclusions.
In any case, officers of the law, clearly, want another tool to bust you (and make a little money in the process).
NORML's Gieringer argues that the bill might have a hard time getting through some of the legislature's more powerful committees, however.
It's next stop is the assembly public safety committee. Gieringer:
I would be astonished if the legislature were so foolish as to pass this bill. It will have a tough time partly because it has to go through some committees which I think have good sense on marijuana policy.
Those who oppose the measure can sit back and take it and let the cops' lobbyists have their way in Sacramento. Or you can take action.
[Update at 3:13 p.m.]: The group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) today sent a letter to Torres urging her to withdraw the proposal.
It reads, in part:
It is absolutely conceivable that, if passed, this bill will become the foundation for DUI checkpoint abuses where the answer to the simple question, 'are you a legal medical cannabis patient?' will result in arrest and conviction under circumstances where impaired driving never occurred. And if it happens to the same patient on three occasions, they will face a mandatory ten-year prison sentence, all while still being innocent.
Stephen Downing, a retired LAPD deputy chief, adds:
Keeping impaired drivers off the road is one of law enforcement's most important jobs, but this bill has no basis in science. Enacting this legislation would not only be disastrous for our state's legal medical marijuana patients, but would impede public safety for all Californians by distracting police from catching actually dangerous drivers. Assemblymember Torres should withdraw this legislation immediately.
Read the whole letter here.