Bill would strip licenses from drivers under 21 if caught with marijuana in their blood

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Vallejo Times-Herald – By Erin Baldassari

SACRAMENTO >> Under the age of 21 and thinking of driving high? Think again.

A new bill from state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would create a zero-tolerance policy for any driver under the age of 21 who is caught operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana, similar to the state’s existing zero-tolerance policy for alcohol.

“It’s illegal for anyone under 21 to ingest marijuana,” Hill said. “And, if you’re going to ingest marijuana, you shouldn’t be driving a car.”

It’s already illegal for anyone to smoke, eat or drink marijuana while driving, but Hill said there aren’t any laws prohibiting traces of marijuana from being in someone’s body while driving — though it is illegal to consume any substance that impairs driving. But, unlike alcohol, where there is a readily agreed-upon national standard constituting impairment — a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or greater — there is no such standard for marijuana.

And, that’s a problem in Hill’s bill, said Dale Gieringer, the state coordinator of California NORML, a nonprofit focused on decriminalizing marijuana in the Golden State. Blood and urine tests are considered effective at determining past use of marijuana, but aren’t effective in determining recent use, according to a 2017 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on marijuana-impaired driving.

Skin and saliva tests are better at determining recent use, but, the report’s authors note, “point-of-arrest screening devices have not been shown to be completely accurate and reliable,” and “there are issues associated with distinguishing use versus environmental exposure, that have not been fully addressed.”

The bill calls for saliva or skin tests but also allows officers to request the suspect submit to a “blood, breath or urine” test if a preliminary marijuana screening test is not available.

“(These tests don’t) show this person was using marijuana at the time of driving, unlike alcohol” Gieringer said, adding that marijuana, which bonds to fat cells in the body and can be released slowly over time, can stay in someone’s system for hours, days or even weeks — well after the high wears away.

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