Posts Tagged ‘Driving while high’

Mounties Let ‘Honest’ Pot-Smoking Driver Through Checkpoint

Photo: The Wyckoff Journal
​A Canadian man who smoked a joint while an RCMP officer chatted with drivers a few cars ahead of him at a roadside checkpoint last week was allowed to continue on his way after he gave up his small stash of marijuana.
The man, from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, was upfront when asked if he had “smoked any dope recently,” reports Brian Medel at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. Yes, he said — about 30 seconds ago.
But at least his seat belt was fastened, and he was courteous and cooperative. Even though the aroma of freshly smoked cannabis wafted up through the air as the officers waved him up, “he seemed fine,” so after he put his small weed stash into the outstretched hand of a Mountie, he was on his way.

However!! Smoking a joint while waiting in line at an RCMP checkpoint isn’t exactly recommended behavior, according to Cpl. Andy Hamilton of the RCMP’s western traffic services.
“I don’t know the exact distance, but it wasn’t very far (back in the line),” Hamilton said.
“I can’t get into the guy’s mind, but he felt comfortable enough to light a joint within eyesight of the police, probably figuring he’d finish it off before he gets there and no one will be the wiser.”
The joint was gone by the time he got to the front of the line, but the Mounties noticed “other evidence.”
“He was honest,” said Hamilton, who wasn’t at the scene but read the report later.
The mellow motorist was briefly detained, but released without being charged, although according to Hamilton, charges are still possible.
The Mounties — who decided the man was OK to drive after questioning him — don’t often charge cases involving only a gram or two of cannabis.
“The main reason we don’t is because whenever we present those cases to the Crown, they usually don’t go forward with them,” Hamilton said.
The fact that a driver was toking up at a checkpoint did not surprise Hamilton. Officers often smell marijuana after pulling a car over, and the driver usually claims he or she smoked a joint “the night before.”
“They’re very nonchalant about it,” Hamilton said.
So if a driver with one or two grams of pot isn’t likely to be charged, is the same likely to be true of a driver with one open bottle of beer?
“You have to go case by case,” Hamilton said.
Susan MacAskill of MADD Canada (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) claimed that marijuana-smoking drivers cause accidents.
“It mellows a person out so they don’t realize they’re a risk,” MacAskill claimed. “They think they’re more relaxed, and we’ve had many people who claim ‘I’m a better drive when I’ve smoked a joint,’ and that’s just absolutely not true.
“:People who are impaired by marijuana can cause as horrific crash,” MacAskill claimed.
“It is really quite bold to be smoking a drug that’s illegal … at a traffic stop,” she said.

Pot Drivers: Stoned Driving Is Uncharted Territory

Drug test

Officers look for signs of drug impairment. Without a standard in most states for the amount of pot allowable in a driver’s system, police administer a lengthy 12-point examination.
(Joe McHugh, CHP / July 3, 2011)

By Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times

July 2, 2011, 3:46 p.m.

It was his green tongue that helped give away Jimmy Candido Flores when police arrived at the fatal accident scene near Chico.

Flores had run off the road and killed a jogger, Carrie Jean Holliman, a 56-year-old Chico elementary school teacher. California Highway Patrol officers thought he might be impaired and conducted a sobriety examination. Flores’ tongue had a green coat typical of heavy marijuana users and a later test showed he had pot, as well as other drugs, in his blood.

After pleading guilty to manslaughter, Flores, a medical marijuana user, was sentenced in February to 10 years and 8 months in prison.

Holliman’s death and others like it across the nation hint at what experts say is an unrecognized crisis: stoned drivers.

The most recent assessment by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, based on random roadside checks, found that 16.3% of all drivers nationwide at night were on various legal and illegal impairing drugs, half them high on marijuana.

In California alone, nearly 1,000 deaths and injuries each year are blamed directly on drugged drivers, according to CHP data, and law enforcement puts much of the blame on the rapid growth of medical marijuana use in the last decade. Fatalities in crashes where drugs were the primary cause and alcohol was not involved jumped 55% over the 10 years ending in 2009.

“Marijuana is a significant and important contributing factor in a growing number of fatal accidents,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy in the White House and former Seattle police chief. “There is no question, not only from the data but from what I have heard in my career as a law enforcement officer.”

As the medical marijuana movement has gained speed — one-third of the states now allow such sales — federal officials are pursuing scientific research into the impairing effects of the drug.

The issue is compounded by the lack of a national standard on the amount of the drug that drivers should be allowed to have in their blood. While 13 states have adopted zero-tolerance laws, 35 states including California have no formal standard, and instead rely on the judgment of police to determine impairment.

Even the most cautious approach of zero tolerance is fraught with complex medical issues about whether residual low levels of marijuana can impair a driver days after the drug is smoked. Marijuana advocates say some state and federal officials are trying to make it impossible for individuals to use marijuana and drive legally for days or weeks afterward.

Marijuana is not nearly as well understood as alcohol, which has been the subject of statistical and medical research for decades.

“A lot of effort has gone into the study of drugged driving and marijuana, because that is the most prevalent drug, but we are not nearly to the point where we are with alcohol,” said Jeffrey P. Michael, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s impaired-driving director. “We don’t know what level of marijuana impairs a driver.”

A $6-million study in Virginia Beach, Va., is attempting to remove any doubt that users of pot and other drugs are more likely to crash. Teams of federal researchers go to accident scenes and ask drivers to voluntarily provide samples of their blood. They later return to the same location, at the same time and on the same day of the week, asking two random motorists not involved in crashes for a blood sample.

The project aims to collect 7,500 blood samples to show whether drivers with specific blood levels of drugs are more likely to crash than those without the drugs, said John Lacey, a researcher at the nonprofit Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

In other projects, test subjects are being given marijuana to smoke and then examined under high-powered scanners or put in advanced driving simulators to gauge how it affects their brains and their ability to drive.

Federal scientists envision a day when police could quickly swab saliva from drivers’ mouths and determine whether they have an illegal level of marijuana, but that will require years of research. Until then, police are in the same position they were with drunk driving in the 1950s, basing arrests on their professional judgment of each driver’s behavior and vital signs.

If police suspect a driver is stoned, they now administer a lengthy 12-point examination. The driver must walk a straight line and stand on one leg, estimate the passage of 30 seconds and have pupils, blood pressure and pulse checked.

Chuck Hayes, national coordinator for the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police based in Washington, D.C., says the system works well to identify impaired drivers, and any future legal limit or medical test would be just another tool rather than a revolutionary change.

“We are not concerned about levels or limits. We are concerned with impairment,” Hayes said.

Indeed, even among law enforcement experts, the need for a standard is debated. Many support tried-and-true policing methods that can ferret out stoned drivers.

“Everybody wants a magic number, because that makes it easy,” said Sarah Kerrigan, a toxicologist at Sam Houston State University in Texas and an expert witness in numerous trials. “To have a law that says above a certain level you are impaired is not scientifically supportable. I don’t think police need the tool, but my opinion may be in the minority.”

But federal officials and local prosecutors argue that the lack of a standard makes convictions harder to obtain.

In October, a San Diego jury acquitted Terry Barraclough, a 60-year-old technical writer and medical marijuana user, on manslaughter charges in a fatal crash that occurred shortly after he had smoked marijuana.

A blood test showed he had high levels of active marijuana ingredients in his blood, but the jury heard conflicting expert testimony from toxicologists about the possible effects.

Martin Doyle, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Barraclough, said the acquittal showed that the lack of a formal legal limit on marijuana intoxication makes such prosecutions tough.

“We don’t have a limit in California and that made my prosecution very difficult,” Doyle said. “We have a lapse in the law.”

But defense attorney Michael Cindrich said the failed prosecution shows that the San Diego district attorney was targeting medical marijuana users and that any legal limit would be unfair to the people who rely on the drug to treat their problems.

Indeed, Anthony Cardoza, an attorney who represented Flores in the Chico accident, said his client was not impaired and that allegations about his green tongue were ridiculous. Flores’ guilty plea was prompted by other legal issues, including a prior conviction for a drunk driving accident that caused an injury.

Marilyn Huestis, a toxicologist and one of the nation’s top experts on marijuana at the National Institute on Drug Abuse who is directing several research programs, said she believed there is no amount of marijuana that a person can consume and drive safely immediately afterward.

Supporters of marijuana legalization agree that the drug can impair a driver, but argue that the effects wear off in a few hours. Huestis, however, said research was showing that the effects of marijuana can linger.

Marijuana’s main ingredient — delta-9 THC — stays in the blood for an hour or more and then breaks down into metabolites that are both psychoactive and inert. But the impairing effects can linger, even after the THC is no longer in the blood, Huestis said. Because it can be absorbed into body tissue and slowly released for days, Huestis believes that heavy chronic daily users may be impaired in ways that are not yet understood.

A complicating factor is the tendency of many marijuana users to also use alcohol, which can sharply amplify impairment. Very little research has been conducted to determine whether it is possible to set limits on a combination of such substances.

Paul Armentano, deputy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said some states had laws that can punish users even when they are not high, pointing to a tough Arizona statute that allows conviction for impaired driving when an inert metabolite is detected in the blood.

Arizona officials said they wrote the law because there was no scientific agreement on how long marijuana impairs a driver. But proponents see something more sinister: an effort to put marijuana users in constant legal jeopardy.

“We are not setting a standard based on impairment, but one similar to saying that if you have one sip of alcohol you are too drunk to drive for the next week,” Armentano said.

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HDNet ‘World Report’ Looks At Driving While High

By Steve Elliott ~alapoet~ in Legislation, News
Monday, May 16, 2011, at 3:00 pm
Driving While High world report.jpg
Photo: HDNet
Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on HDNET “World Report”: DWHigh: Medical Marijuana and Driving

With the number of medical marijuana patients rising, and with 16 states now allowing medicinal cannabis, advocates are fighting against attempts to regulate the amount of THC that can be in your blood while driving.

HDNet “World Report,” in an episode which will debut Thursday night, May 17, will examine driving while under the influence of medical marijuana.
In Colorado, which has a growing medical marijuana community, the question is, should there be a limit? The Legislature recently defeated a measure which would have limited blood THC levels at five nanograms per millilter (ng/ml). Advocates said the measure was far too strict, and would, in effect, have banned medical marijuana patients from legally driving.
“World Report” puts legal medical marijuana users behind the wheel of a driving simulator and watched them navigate a course, first while sober, then after consuming pot. (Of course, under Colorado’s recently proposed — and unrealistically low — five-nanogram limit, all of the patients would likely be considered “high” even while completely sober, thus making moot the question of impairment.)

“I am very concerned that because there is this sense of entitlement with medical mariju8ana that when the cops come to the car people will immediately say, ‘Oh you smell marijuana because I’m a medical marijuana patient,’ ” said Sean McCallister, a lawyer in Colorado who is “working to establish a tough new standard for driving while high by setting a limit on blood THC levels.
But what McCallister and most any other advocate of “tough new standards” on blood THC levels won’t tell you, is that blood THC levels do not measure impairment at all — they simply measure the presence of THC, which can be found in the blood long after intoxication has passed.
What that means for medical marijuana patients — as shown by the recent failure of a completely sober William Breathes, the pot critic for Denver Westwordto pass a blood test — will be effectively banned from driving at all, since their blood THC levels would never dip down into what is considered “legal” territory, even when unimpaired.
This is because THC and its metabolites can be detectable for days, even weeks, after the last ingestion; their presence does not indicate impairment at all.
According to Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), setting a legal limit on how much THC a person can have in their blood while driving is a mistake, because the jury is still out on the science of what constitutes being “too high to drive.”
In any event, even with the very anecdotal nature of World Report’s “investigation,” some drivers did just fine after smoking and eating marijuana; the others may just be piss-poor drivers, even while sober.
Certainly, the spectacle of some lame-ass cop quizzing a stoned driver about “what color was the roof of that barn” — and then feeling enormously validated when the driver doesn’t know or care — has some sick entertainment value. But what, exactly, does that tell us about marijuana and driving impairment? Not a fuck of a lot.
The numbers, for those who prefer science over ratings-boosting sensationalism, indicates that marijuana doesn’t, in fact, make you wreck your car. Subjects show almost identical driving skills just before and just after smoking marijuana, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

Additionally, experienced marijuana consumers show virtually no changes in cognitive performance after using cannabis, according to clinical tria data published online last year in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.
What: “World Report — DW High: Medical Marijuana and Driving premiers on HDNet
When: Tuesday, May 17, 9 p.m. ET with an encore at 12 a.m. ET May 18
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