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Medical Marijuana: Montana Bill to Require Patients Who Drive to Take Drug Tests or Face Revocation of Registration Card Gets Hearing

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #569)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

A bill that would require registered medical marijuana patients involved in a traffic accident or pulled over for a traffic infraction to submit to a blood test for THC or face revocation of their medical marijuana registration card got a hearing in the Montana legislature Tuesday. It didn't get a very warm welcome, with a number of people lined up to denounce it and only two who spoke in support.

Senate Bill 212 also sets specific THC levels in blood plasma that would create a "rebuttable inference" that the driver is impaired. According to the bill, if less than one nanogram of THC per milliliter is detected, the driver is not considered impaired. If between one and five nanograms and alcohol is also detected, the driver is considered impaired. If greater than five nanograms of THC alone, the driver is considered impaired.

Patient-drivers who are determined to be impaired would not only lose their medical marijuana registration, but would also be subject to prosecution for driving under the influence.

But according to peer-reviewed academic studies cited by the Marijuana Policy Project, drivers with less than five nanograms of THC in their blood have no greater risk of crashes than drug-free drivers. Only when THC levels are above five to 10 nanograms does the crash risk begin to rise above that for sober drivers.

The bill is the brainchild of state Sen. Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell), who told the hearing: "I think this is a problem and we need to look at the drugs as well as the alcohol."

But curiously for someone who professed to be concerned with highway safety, Jackson made no mention of applying similar sanctions to people receiving prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin, Valium, or a host of other potentially driving-impairing substances.

At Tuesday's hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, medical marijuana supporters argued that there are no accurate tests for marijuana impairment, that marijuana stays in the systems of users for days (long after any impairment has vanished), and that there was no evidence Montana had a problem with medical marijuana patients on the highways.

"I have not heard of any allegation, even, of a registered Montana patient driving under the influence," said Tom Daubert of Helena, director of Patients and Families United, the state's largest medical marijuana support group. "There's no scientific basis for the standards in the bill for impairment," Daubert says. "Those who medicate with marijuana would be pretty much guaranteed to fail the test."

Montana voters approved medical marijuana in 2004. Since then, more than 1,200 people have signed up with the state registry in order to participate in the program.

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.


mlang52 (not verified)

Problem is, these people have forgotten that it used to take a failed field sobriety test to prove a driver was impaired. Any good pain doctor can tell you that the level of drug alone in the blood stream says nothing as to its effect on the body. I think there was, even, a scientific article published on it, by a pain doctor from California! Everyone is affected differently. But lets not involve any medical science. That just blurs the politics! Lets just continue to let their emotions guide the legal system. Proof of impairment is the key!

Fri, 01/23/2009 - 2:15pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

One would think V. Jackson would have more important things to address to make Montana a safer community. I personally think V. Jackson is showing Montanians his lack of leadership in the priorities for the public good. Moreover, it also shows V. Jackson's leadership is anemic and biased. I have not read (anywhere) where driving under the influence of pot is a highway problem by medical pot users or nonmedical pot users. However, one can make a simple test for themselves on the issuse of whether pot increases accident risk by making the following observation at social gatherings where pot and alcohol are used. Watch the general behavior of alcohol users at parties, and particularly sports events. After several drinks of alcohol, the general level of agression, and especially the voice level and general physical contact of particpants increases dramatically. Alcohol increases general aggression, while pot users experince an overall level of risk aversion. We need useful tests to determine whether pot users are the causes of accidents or the personalities and character traits of the individuals are. I think such tests should be focused on such things as the causes of road rage. I think drivers charged with road rage should be tested for usage of legal and illegal drugs. I also think the voters of Montana should take a hard look at V. Jackson's record of public service to his constituients. Is V. Jackson's trying to get is own name in print by using controversial issues. Should this be the case V. Jackson is blatantly igoring his duty to Montanian's. Public servants should focus their efforts on determining the causes of accidents on the highways. I believe this focus would prove alcohol, cigarettes (by distraction of driver attention), and prescribed medications lead to vastly more accidents on the highway than pot usage.

Fritz H. Smith, Cut Bank

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 1:12pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Until they come up with a fluid test that shows active THC molecules, all these tests are worthless. Why cares if you have inert items like metablolites from months ago in your system? They don't do anything to you physically or mentally. It's like getting drunk at your brother's wedding two months ago and being pulled over for drunk driving a month and a half later.

Learn the difference between metabolite and active element! Then, and only then, give us a test we can trust!

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 1:34pm Permalink

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