Road Rage

A California bill to jail sober drivers had medical cannabis patients fuming

 

At press time, Assemblywoman Norma Torres amended AB 2552 to eliminate its disputed “per se” DUI elements. NORML has withdrawn its opposition to the bill.

 

California medical cannabis patients and drug law reformers are leading the charge against a new bill that would criminalize driving while—sober?

Yup. Assemblywoman Norma Torres of Chino authored the ludicrous Assembly Bill 2552 for the spring legislative season in Sacramento. Torres’ 2552 would make it “unlawful for a person who has a detectable amount of any controlled substance . . . to drive a vehicle . . . except when the controlled substance was administered, dispensed or prescribed by a person licensed by the state to administer, dispense or prescribe controlled substances.”

But it’s already a crime to drive stoned. The California Vehicle Code states, “It is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle.”

How come that’s not enough?

 

IN THE STREETS

According to Manny Daskal, who is on the board of directors of the California DUI Lawyers Association, criminal justice industry lobbyists are trying to pave a freeway to prison for innocent drivers.

Today, cops and prosecutors face an obstacle course on the way to a marijuana DUI conviction.

In a typical situation, a motorist suspected of marijuana DUI is stopped for some infraction. Perhaps the police smell cannabis and pull the suspect out of the car and perform a coordination test on them. Police may call in a “drug recognition expert.”

If arrested for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID), the suspect may have to take a urine or blood test. Blood tests are expensive, and standard urine tests prove the mere presence of cannabis metabolites—evidence of past use, but not present intoxication.

“It becomes a hollow criminal case,” Daskal says. “DAs are reluctant to try them as marijuana DUI cases unless there’s some aggravating circumstances.”

In court, juries will learn it’s almost impossible to scientifically prove “under the influence,” even with rare and expensive gas chromatograph analysis of blood for THC.

 

THE SCIENCE

The Food and Drug Administration approves of “high driving” with THC pill Marinol. The U.S. Department of Transportation has numerous studies showing drivers who use cannabis are an insignificant danger compared to the monstrous outcomes of driving drunk, or using alcohol in combination with prescription drugs. A least a dozen other studies come to similar conclusions.

Tolerance to cannabis plays a huge role, the FDA understood. Regular medical marijuana users who are sober can have higher levels of cannabis byproducts in the blood than an impaired first-time user. AB 2552 would eliminate any requirement by law enforcement to prove impairment. The mere existence of any drug in the blood is a guilty verdict, and guilty verdicts are very lucrative for cops, prosecutors and jailers, Daskal said.

In response, patients across California are lobbying their elected representatives, writing letters to the editor, as well as opinion pieces and countering clueless online commentators.

Groups like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) argue that it’s morally wrong to put someone in jail for a crime they didn’t commit, and Torres’ law would do just that.

 

THE LATEST BOGEYMAN

The Drug Czar is scaring up an old bogeyman in the war on cannabis, says Dale Gieringer, California Director of NORML.

“A hysteria about drugged driving has been whipped up by the Drug Czar’s office and other law enforcement bureaucracies,” he says. “They like to cite the fact that there has been an increase in the number of fatal drivers found with drugs in their system. However, this can be explained by the simple fact that there has been an increase in the number of adults using drugs.”

Gieringer notes, “There has likewise been a spectacular increase in the number of fatal drivers who have GPS units—and tattoos—over recent years, but of course this doesn’t mean we should criminalize them for DUI.”

Running “get tough on drugged driving” bills is a diabolical manipulation of public sentiment that’s resulted in 15 states passing similar so-called “per se” marijuana DUI laws, as few politicians will risk being perceived as standing in the way of “road safety.”

In reality, California auto fatalities are at the lowest levels since data collection began, states the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

“At the same time, over the past four or five years, there has been a reported increase in the number of adults who are marijuana users,” Gieringer says. “This supports the hypothesis that driving safety has improved with marijuana use, perhaps because it substitutes for alcohol.”

Thrift, if not moral conscience, may doom AB 2552 in Sacramento, he says.

“I am confident that the legislature will reject the bill, if not because it would wrongly convict drivers who are actually innocent of drug impairment, then at least because it would increase the prison population and result in higher costs for more drug testing,” he says.

All it takes for an unjust law to pass is silence, though, so Californians are speaking up.

 

LESS IS MOORE?

In case you missed it, the politician pushing this new DUI law, Norma Torres, is the same legislative genius trying to ban the release of 911 calls to the media—prompted by the drama surrounding one rich, privileged actress: Demi Moore. In this incident, a 911 call from one of Moore’s friend—who alleged the actress was convulsing, semi-conscious and “burning up” after having ingested “something”—ended up being released to the media. Paramedics were called to the scene and Moore’s publicist is seeking “professional help” to “treat her exhaustion.” Torres wants to spare the citizenry from being exposed to 911 calls being made public. “Everyone has the right to privacy,” says Torres, who just so happens to be a former 911 operator. “The unauthorized release of medical records is already illegal, medical emergency calls should also be protected.” Way to go, Torres. Keep up the good fight protecting your constituents from Hollywood excess and embarrassment.

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