Originally Published: December 12, 2012 10:25 p.m.
The laws moving the fight forward to legalize use of marijuana do not mix with current laws on the books, particularly those governing drivers.
This past week we heard about the opening of the first marijuana dispensary in Arizona. It is located in Glendale, designed to legally sell marijuana to state medical marijuana cardholders.
Forgetting the fact that the federal government still holds that marijuana use of any kind is illegal, voters in other states - Colorado and Washington - this past month approved legalizing personal use of marijuana. That means no state penalty exists there for possessing small amounts of the drug. This past week Colorado's governor signed the measure, making it part of the state's constitution - deemed a historic step toward normalizing use of this drug.
What should be next, however, for any state in which marijuana is legal, or legal for certain people or uses, would be clarification of driving-while-impaired laws.
The argument concerns how much THC (tetrahydrocannabinol - the active ingredient in cannabis) is allowable in the bloodstream. Marijuana advocates point to a 5 nanogram threshold. To us it is very similar to people who argue over how much alcohol was in their system. We have standards for DUI and Extreme DUI. Some states even have a lower penalty for driving while ability impaired.
State lawmakers in multiple states have been floating such legislation to clarify how marijuana users fit into the mix of law enforcement, when it comes to drug use. Most of those bills have failed, such as in Colorado over the past three years.
The debate includes arguments over "permissive inference," as well as what's good for drivers and how that compares with employers' testing. For instance, according to the Associated Press and the Denver Post, employers test for an inactive THC metabolite that is detectable in body fat for weeks after marijuana usage. That's not the kind of test that law enforcement would use, which would be a test for active THC in the bloodstream - a level that drops to less than 5 nanograms within three hours of smoking.
While the burden would be on the drivers to prove they were not impaired, even though they tested above the legal limit, common sense is being lost in this debate. It might be OK for people to make the decision to use marijuana - or get their doctor to prescribe it - but it is another step entirely to get behind the wheel of a car and put the safety of others at risk by driving while impaired.
That logic does not work for people who drink and drive, and it also should not for people who smoke pot and drive.