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State Sets Massive Precedent — Refuses to Enforce THC Blood Limit for Driving

There’s a lot to be said for states that have legalized recreational and/or medical cannabis, but even Colorado and Washington have one problem – arbitrary blood-THC limits which imply a driver is impaired.

These numbers, such as Washington’s 5ng/ml, have no scientific basis for assessing the level of impairment. Despite this, six states with legal weed have per se limits for tetrahydrocannabinol; being over that number automatically makes you guilty of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID).

Oregon, however, is bucking the trend. In its DUI Legislative Report, the state’s Liquor Control Commission said it is recommending against a per se THC limit. By relying on the actual state of science, this welcome exercise in rationality should set an example for other states setting up their own regulatory framework.

Oregon’s Liquor Control Commission was tasked in 2015 with “regulating the recreational marijuana market in Oregon, with studying the question of THC-related intoxicated driving.”

According to the report:

Due to restrictions on cannabis research and limited data, it is difficult to make definitive statements about the risk of THC-intoxicated driving. The body of evidence that does exist indicates that while attitudes towards driving after marijuana use are considerably more relaxed than in the case of alcohol, the risk of crashes while driving under the influence of THC is lower than drunk driving. Little evidence exists to compel a significant change in status quo policy or institute a per se intoxication standard for THC.

A widely-reported study by the American Automobile Association in 2016 found no scientific basis for blood-THC limits and called on the six states using such laws to abandon them. Chemical tests for THC have not been shown to correlate to things like brake and gas pedal coordination, distance perception and general attention.

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The only thing we know about blood-THC and driving is that it is not comparable to the tests for alcohol impairment. There is no THC breathalyzer test, and urine tests cannot detect it. Some blood tests can distinguish between THC and its longer-lasting metabolites, but these levels can vary widely depending on how often the person uses cannabis. Test results will also vary based on whether one smoked or ate the cannabis.

One person can feel impaired at 5ng/ml while another can function with no detectable impairment. In fact, many people charged with DUID based on arbitrary blood-THC limits have convinced juries they were not impaired when they were pulled over.

Even so, driving studies show driving while on cannabis is far less dangerous than driving on alcohol, including one finding virtually no driving impairment from cannabis. Other studies have found that speed is typically reduced while driving on cannabis, and people deliberately compensate for any impairment, although multitasking was somewhat affected.

In no way does this mean anyone can just toke up and get behind the wheel. Cannabis is psychoactive, and people unaccustomed to cannabis – especially teenagers – should certainly refrain from driving.

The Oregon Commission’s report also supports the premise that cannabis users are more responsible drivers than alcohol use.

The rate of drivers tested by Drug Recognition Experts who are positive for THC intoxication rose between 2013 and 2014, but did not increase following legalization. Fatal accidents data is highly variable year-to-year, making trend analysis difficult. But in Oregon in 2015 there were only three more traffic fatalities involving a driver testing positive for THC compared to 2004. Moreover, the rate of THC-related fatal accidents is also considerably lower than such accidents involving alcohol intoxication. Finally, while overall traffic fatalities and alcohol-related fatalities spiked in 2015, THC-related fatalities did not.

As a spokesman for AAA noted when their study was published, the increased risk from driving on cannabis is about the same as driving with a “noisy child in the back of the car,” and only half as dangerous as talking on a hands-free cellphone (legal in all states).

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While thankfully avoiding an arbitrary blood-THC limit recommendation, the Oregon Commission still felt compelled to offer advice on cannabis and driving. It recommended increasing the use of “Drug Recognition Experts” who administer lengthy sobriety tests specific to cannabis, as well as implementing a voluntary oral swab test to collect data.

  • The Cat’s Vagina

    I know this is going to sound wrong and goes against everything we’ve been taught about drugs being bad, but some people are actually much BETTER drivers when they’re under the influence of marijuana. People with high levels of tension and anxiety about maneuvering a cage of steel and glass at murderous speeds can take the edge off of that burden with merely a FRACTION of the impairment that’s caused by every other drug used to treat such conditions. I’d rather Ms. Jumpantwitch smoke a joint before driving than get doped up on something like Valium or Xanax.

    • diane.reynolds

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    • roddie1111

      Cannabis is not a drug.

    • Gordon Klock

      The British highway department did an experiment regarding the effects of various drugs & how they affect a person’s ability to drive, & later had to scrap the project, & try to downplay the seemingly outrageous discovered fact, that yes, drivers are actually somewhat safer on weed, the slightly reduced response time that other similar tests reported, is due to the fact that a “stoner” will do things like glance both ways instead of one at a “one way” sign,-they intrinsically know better than to blindly trust their sense of objective reality, caffeine, on the other hand, was found to be almost as hazardous as alcohol……
      ( a “newbie” stoner, might get super confused, & intimidated, though)…

  • lou

    Nonsense, you actually drive way better under the influence of cannabis.

  • doucyet

    And so it begins. The wife and I were talking about this the other day, who sets the standards? Each state that legalizes it? Will they be uniform standards? It will be interesting to watch..

  • bobaka

    We are forced to suffer life under these psychotic bureaucrats. Their stuttering and lying will not end until they enter the ground. The drug war from beginning to end is lies, lies, lies, and more lies. We hippies have outlasted these beasts from hell. We still are against war mongering and central banking and every other scam the 1% rule by. We are still here and we have created our own economy which the beasts from hell now want to milk. The ignorant assholes who lead us will not investigate the endo-cannabinoid deficiency disease paradigm and, thereby, enter modernity with an escape from paranoid myth through the “truth” of the fact that the body usually produces its own cannabinoids unless the individual is battered by the attrocities of living under fascism/capitalism/class-caste culture.

    • Robert Farrior

      Revolution is the only recourse! They must all be removed from power!

  • The key is no scientific basis.Knee jerk laws are all too common and all too many.Republican states are full of such laws and full of something else as well.

  • roddie1111
    • The Cat’s Vagina

      What do you think drugs actually are? I’m as much a pothead as the next person, but I do NOT believe it’s helping anyone’s case to sit there and spew bullshit about how this mind-altering substance which basically cures EVERYTHING “is totally not a drug, man.” Now, sit down and have another bong hit while the adults talk about drugs.

  • Vincent D’Emidio

    Oregon is a truly intel;liogent, liberated State! How unlike that dump known as Texas. I saw a video from Texas recorded during a Muslim rally, where some redneck bitch started running her prejudiced mouth!
    What a difference.