State lawmakers keeping after the right problem can’t seem to avoid coming up with the same wrong answers.
This time, it’s Aurora state Rep. Rhonda Fields who’s trying to make sure that the roads are as safe as possible as the state gears up to make marijuana legal, and the party gets started in earnest.
Fields is sponsoring a measure that would treat marijuana consumption very similar to that of alcohol when it comes to driving. Her bill, which seems poised to pass in the state House, would set a blood-level limit for THC, the substance in marijuana that makes people feel high. If you’re caught driving with a blood-THC level above 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, you would face a charge of driving under the influence of drugs.
Here’s the problem, whereas there is a huge body of science supporting the seemingly arbitrary numbers behind drunk-driving limits and laws, no such science exists with marijuana.
There are some studies, but they’re not definitive, and they’re really not even very reliable.
The bigger problem is twofold: the erroneous science behind Fields’ bill could lead to serious consequences for Colorado drivers who really weren’t intoxicated or impaired while driving a car, and worse yet, the 5ng/ml limit could just as easily allow for very impaired drivers to hit the roads.
Alcohol and THC are two very different substances that affect different parts of the brain in very different ways.
What little reliable science there is in trying to determine blood-THC levels and impairment show that occasional users exhibit substantially lower THC levels, sooner, after smoking pot, than do frequent and heavy users. That’s unlike alcohol, which is not stored in the body the same way THC is. Even though the stored, inactive, THC does not make people high, it is detected in blood tests the same way.
All this means that those who smoke more pot, for either recreational or medical purposes, face a very real chance of having a higher-than-allowed blood-THC level, even though they’re not high, and not “impaired.”
Imposing this level without better science and better answers is not just unfair, it’s plain wrong.
We agree that trying to make allowances for people to consume “some” alcohol or marijuana and still drive a car is a sketchy public policy, but it addresses the reality of a society where alcohol is plentiful and accepted, and driving somewhere to get it is commonplace. It’s not unrealistic to expect that marijuana use in Colorado will follow similar suit. In that vein, scientists and the government have offered a wide range of recommendations to the public, helping them gauge how much alcohol to drink and under what circumstances before getting behind the wheel of a car. It’s part of the Colorado driver test. We agree that the best advice is, don’t drink and drive, and don’t get high and drive. But the iffy science behind Field’s bill begs the question, “for how long?”
There are no clear answers here, and so making law with such serious consequences is a serious mistake.
It’s already against the law to drive a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That allows for police to give roadside tests in addition to testing for the presence of THC in the blood. But to choose a THC limit based on political need rather than sound research doesn’t do the job.
Lawmakers must either wait for credible research to allow for blood-level limits, or find a more scientific way to determine intoxication. As inconvenient as it is, science must prevail over politics.