Debate Rises in the US over Marijuana-DUI Legislation; Final Decision can Affect American’s Ability to Enter Canada


As of the American 2012 elections, various States have begun legalizing the possession of marijuana. Policy makers are struggling to establish laws regarding how to tax, control, and most importantly identify and prosecute motorists driving under the influence of marijuana. The main issue of legalization is occurring at a faster rate than important research regarding what level on marijuana consumption should be allowed while operating a motor vehicle.

The problem in identifying and prosecuting impaired pot motorists is that identifying marijuana impairment is not as simple as testing for alcohol. Breathalyzers cannot detect marijuana and presently only a small number of American police officers are trained to authoritatively identify marijuana-DUI cases. As Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana, they have created legislation stating that drivers with 5 nanograms, or more of THC per milliliter of blood, are considered to be under the influence. Montana and California, States with legalized medical marijuana use, have imposed similar laws.

However, according to professionals such as R. Andrew Sewell, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, the direct correlation between THC levels and impairment are not straight forward. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or “THC” is hard to flush out of your system and the chemical may linger in the body even after the initial effects of ingesting the substance have worn off. THC’s lifespan ranges from hours to months depending on the amount of marijuana consumed, the concentration of THC, and personal tolerance.

“In the case of smoked marijuana, THC peals rapidly in the first few minutes after inhaling, often to levels of 100ng/ml in the blood plasma. It then declines quickly to single-digit levels within an hour,” says California’s pro-marijuana organization NORML. The peaking and leveling off of THC levels appears to be different among chronic users. North of the USA, Health Canada explains that most applicants for a medical marijuana licence suffer from arthritis, spinal cord injury, spinal cord disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, AID/HIV, or epilepsy. Jackalyn Veltkamp is one such individual who uses medical marijuana to assist her medical conditions. “I use it every night and it [THC] keeps stacking up and stacking up [in the blood].” If she were to be tested on any given day, her THC level would be in the thousand nanograms, even if she were not presently under the influence.

Sobriety tests have been developed to identify drugged drivers. However, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, only 6,837 (less than 1%) of American police officers are fully trained. Current drug road-side tests in California include checking for dilated pupils, elevated blood pressure and pulse, odor of marijuana, dry mouth, short-term memory impairment, and eyelid and body tremors. However, road-side tests are still more ambiguous that breathalyser tests for alcohol levels. Continued research and development will hopefully find better technical tests for determining pot-DUIs. Presently, the norm will likely remain at 5ng/ml and time will show if this is in fact too high or low. Americans with a DUI conviction are immiscible to Canada, marijuana-DUIs included.

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