Newsbrief: Drugged Driving Bill Introduced in Ohio 4/2/04

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As DRCNet reported two weeks ago, a nationwide offensive to pass "drugged driving" laws that would make having any detectable amount of an illegal drug or its metabolites in a drivers' system a crime is underway ( These per se Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) laws do not require any showing of actual impairment, only the presence of metabolites, which in the case of marijuana smokers can remain present for days or weeks after the joint is smoked and the high is gone.

Such bills have already passed in nine states, most recently in Wisconsin (see related newsbrief this issue), and now two powerful Ohio politicians hope to add the Buckeye State to the list. Ohio state senators Jeff Jacobsen (R-6th District) and Steve Austria (R-10th District) last week introduced Senate Bill 215, "to prohibit the operation of a vehicle or vessel if any amount of a controlled substance or a metabolite of a controlled substance is present in the operator's blood or urine, subject to certain exceptions."

Jacobsen is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Austria is president-elect of the Senate. As the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ( put it in an e-mail announcing the bill's filing, "This bill is expected to move."

And that's bad news, NORML said. "This legislation represents an all out assault on the marijuana smoking community. Because inactive marijuana metabolites (inert compounds indicative of past drug use) remain detectable in certain bodily fluids, particularly urine, for days and sometimes weeks after past use, this legislation seeks to define sober drivers as if they were intoxicated." That, NORML noted, is "illogical and unfair."

Drugged driving laws should target impairment by establishing scientifically sound cut-off levels that correlate drug levels to impairment, as is done with alcohol, NORML said.

"'Zero tolerance' laws are neither a safe nor sensible way to identify impaired drivers; they are an attempt to misuse the traffic safety laws in order to identify and prosecute marijuana smokers per se," the group noted.

The bill would make DUID a felony offense and set mandatory minimum sentences. It also provides two exemptions to a DUID charge, one for people who are unwittingly under the influence of drugs, a small but apparently politically potent portion of the population. The second exemption, one that is not logically defensible if the object of the law is to stop impaired driving but which makes perfect sense if the bill's intent is to punish illegal drug users, is for people on prescription drugs. If the bill's authors really wanted to go after drug-impaired drivers, the fact of a prescription should make no difference. The exemption also undermines the underlying premise of the bill -- that any drugs in your system make you an impaired driver -- by implicitly suggesting that the presence of opiates in a driver's system doesn't necessarily make him impaired.

The bill also creates a separate offense of teenage impaired driving, where drivers under 21 who have a blood alcohol range of 0.002 to 0.008 are charged with a misdemeanor carrying a short mandatory minimum sentence. That sentence can be waived if the driver agrees to take driver improvement classes. And just to be safe, the bill also bars drugged driving on boats, jet skis, and trolley cars.

Read the bill online at:

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Issue #331, 4/2/04 Show Cause Hearing for David Borden and David Guard's Civil Disobedience to Take Place This Morning | DRCNet Interview: Floro Tunubalá Paja, Former Governor of the State of Cauca, Colombia | Meth Panic Mantra: Save the Children | Czech Party Seeks Move to US-Style Drug War Policy | DRCNet Press Coverage | Medical Marijuana Advocate Confronts Congressional Opponent at House Hearing | Newsbrief: Federal Appeals Court Rules Police Can Search Without Warrant | Newsbrief: Addicts Take Prescription Heroin for Safety, Stability -- Not to Quit, Study Finds | Newsbrief: Another Safe Injection Site in British Columbia? | Newsbrief: Drugged Driving Bill Introduced in Ohio | Newsbrief: DUID -- Pass It and They Will Prosecute | Newsbrief: Who's Minding Your Utility Bill? | This Week in History | Job, Grant and Internship Opportunities with MPP | The Reformer's Calendar

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