Drugged Driving: No Conviction Based Just on Marijuana Traces, Michigan Appeals Court Rules 7/29/05

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The Michigan Court of Appeals has held that prosecutors hoping to convict a woman of driving under the influence of marijuana must prove she was actually intoxicated instead of relying solely on a blood test that picked up trace THC metabolites. With Michigan one of a dozen states that have newly passed drugged driving laws, the ruling could be an early indicator that state courts are going to make prosecutors actually prove impairment instead of allowing them to win convictions merely on the basis of a drug test.

The ruling came in the case of Delores Marie Derror of Traverse City, whose vehicle slid into oncoming traffic on a snowy winter highway, killing one woman and leaving two children paralyzed. Officers at the scene found a case with several joints in Derror's purse, and she admitted smoking marijuana some four hours before the accident. Derror tested negative for THC, but came back positive for carboxy THC, a by-product left over when THC is metabolized (a metabolite) that is detectable in the body long after the marijuana high is gone. Prosecutors hoped that showing, via the positive metabolite result, that Derror had smoked marijuana at some previous point would be sufficient to win a drugged driving conviction.

But the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled instead that a person must be impaired by a controlled substance to be convicted under the statute and that carboxy THC is not a controlled substance because it has no intoxicating effect. "Its presence in the blood conclusively proves that a person ingested THC at some point in time," the court's opinion noted. "However, carboxy THC itself has no pharmacological effect on the body and its level in the blood correlates poorly, if at all, to an individual's level of THC-related impairment. In fact, carboxy THC could remain in the blood long after all THC was gone, as THC quickly leaves the blood and enters the body's tissues."

In other words, if prosecutors want to convict someone of drugged driving, they must actually prove that person was impaired.

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Issue #397 -- 7/29/05

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Editorial: Clear Thinking | The Sensenbrenner Effect: Fear, Firing, and Fallout on the Hill | Congress: House Turns Back Repeal of Higher Education Act Drug Provision, Battle Returns to Senate | Meth and Myth: Top Doctors, Scientists, and Specialists Warn Mass Media on "Meth Baby" Stories | DRCNet Book Review: "Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing," by Norm Stamper (2005, Nation Books, 396 pp, $26.00 HB) | Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | The Feds: DEA Doesn't Follow Own Rules on Snitches, Inspector General Says | Methamphetamine: Congressional Drug Warriors Keep Up Pressure on Drug Czar | Asia: Plan to Legalize Afghan Opium Production Drawing Attention | Search and Seizure: Flex Your Rights Provides Citizens' Guide to Refusing New York Subway Searches | Drugged Driving: No Conviction Based Just on Marijuana Traces, Michigan Appeals Court Rules | Media Scan: Time and New York Times on Pain, Nadelmann on Controlling Medical Marijuana | Weekly: This Week in History | Job Opportunity: Outreach Coordinator, Students for Sensible Drug Policy | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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