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Drugged Driving: Michigan Supreme Overturns Itself on Marijuana Metabolites Issue

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #636)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

The Michigan Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that it is not illegal to drive while having marijuana metabolites in the body, reversing a 2006 decision by a more conservative version of the court. Marijuana metabolites are not a controlled substance under state law, and their mere presence thus cannot be the basis of a conviction under the state's drugged driving law, the court held.

The ruling came in People v. Feezel, in which the court overturned the conviction of a driver in the death of a severely drunk pedestrian walking in the middle of a five-lane road at night. The driver, George Feezel, was himself borderline intoxicated on alcohol, blowing a 0.009, and also tested positive for marijuana metabolites, which can linger in the system for days or weeks after the pot high is gone. Feezle was found not guilty of drunk driving causing a death, but convicted of second-offense drunk driving (a misdemeanor in Michigan), leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and driving under the influence of marijuana -- although there was no testimony to the effect that he had used marijuana that evening and there was testimony to the contrary.

The court ruled that a Washtenaw County jury should have been allowed to hear evidence the victim was drunk, remanding the case back to circuit court. But in ruling that marijuana metabolites are not a controlled substance, the court invalidated what was in effect a per se zero tolerance drugged driving law that allowed for people to be convicted of driving while impaired when they were not actually shown to be impaired.

"We hold that 11-carboxy-THC is not a schedule 1 controlled substance under MCL 333.7212 [controlled substances act] and, therefore, a person cannot be prosecuted under MCL 257.625(8) [drugged driving act] for operating a motor vehicle with any amount of 11-carboxy-THC in his or her system," read the opinion.

The opinion, largely a demolition of the previous Supreme Court's 2006 ruling in People v. Derror that marijuana metabolites are a controlled substance, thus allowing for drugged driving convictions based solely on their presence, noted that Michigan is now a medical marijuana state and that allowing Derror to stand would unfairly impact medical marijuana patients.

Under Derror, Justice Corrigan wrote for the majority, "Individuals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes will be prohibited from driving long after the person is no longer impaired. Indeed, in this case, experts testified that, on average, the metabolite could remain in a person's blood for 18 hours and in a person's urine for up to 4 weeks."

It's not just about medical marijuana patients, the opinion suggested: "Thus, under Derror, an individual who only has 11-carboxy-THC in his or her system is prohibited from driving and, at the whim of police and prosecutors, can be criminally responsible for choosing to do so even if the person has a minuscule amount of the substance in his or her system. Therefore, the Derror majority's interpretation of the statute defies practicable workability given its tremendous potential for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement."

It is neither fair nor just nor in the interest of public safety to charge people with drugged driving who aren't impaired. Finally, there is a Michigan Supreme Court that recognizes this.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Dave K (not verified)

Finally a court has seen through the insanity of metabolite testing. Metabolites are not drugs. If impairment cannot be demonstrated through a field sobriety test, that individual is probably not impaired. If an individual's behavior does not demonstrate impairment in a skill needed for driving why would society benefit from restricting an individual's privilege to drive. If we actually wanted a zero level of impairment we would have to restrict driving based on physical injury, age, medical conditions, and a large number of over the counter medications. This is a wise ruling from a group of people that actually examined the facts rather than to buy into the hype of metabolite testing.

The lesson learned here has an obvious application to those who believe metabolites to be an indication that someone is not able to perform on the job. They do not measure job performance any better than they do driving impairment.

Wed, 07/21/2010 - 3:35pm Permalink
paita (not verified)

I agree 1000  percent w/this ruling.All these so-called drug test ,ARE NOT EVEN TESTING FOR THE ACTUAL DRUG,,not a single test actually test for actual drugs.Take the poppyseed,how many people lost there jobs,babies,future employment over a hotdog bun,because they test for a metabolite,a literal molecule from the original plant source.Same w/coca teas or and coca product,anyone who drinks a cup of tea and a poppyseed muffine will be told from these false drug test,they just did herion and cocaine,thats f-ing crazy.Now this ignorant government ,federal,want everyones ability to get insurance,employment,college loanes,any loans,literally the ability to live there lives all hinging on so called drug test that DON'T even test for the actual drug.I had  a great friend work for a companyfor 24.6 years,lost everything ,his home,his retirement any chance of ever getting another job at 50 all over a cup of tea,THATS WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!The federal court need to follow Michigans ruling.....A actual drug needs to be present to be accused of doing any drugs..For godsake in pennsylvania  newborn babies are being taken from mothers  for a poppyseed muffin.THIS NEEDS TO STOP,,,P,,please  sign any petions to stop this metabolite profiling.A metabolite is literally a nanogram.A micrscope that see's the moon from earth  is the type needed to see  a nanogram.It is not visual to our naked eye ever.Thank u michigan,I hope every other state follows,,,paita

Sun, 06/03/2012 - 2:59pm Permalink

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