Tag Archives: driving

Sensible Marijuana Proposals Advance to Governor in Oregon

100503_john_kitzhaber
Gov. Kitzhaber

On June 25, the Oregon Legislature sent two bills that would make sensible changes to Oregon’s marijuana laws to Gov. Kitzhaber for his approval. If enacted, these proposals would reduce the severity of the punishment for certain marijuana crimes. SB 40 would reduce the penalties for possession of marijuana. Possession of under an ounce of marijuana is currently punished by a civil violation. This bill reduces the criminal penalty for possession of between one and four ounces, as well as the penalty for possession of more than four ounces. If you are an Oregon resident, please ask the governor to support these reasonable changes. SB 82 would eliminate the requirement to suspend a person’s driver’s license if he or she is found in possession of under an ounce of marijuana. Possession of under an ounce is not a criminal act in Oregon; it makes no sense to add draconian measures like suspension of driving privileges for the non-violent act of simple possession. Urge Gov. Kitzhaber to end this heavy-handed practice.

Michigan Supreme Court Protects Medical Marijuana Patients

In a crucial win for patients in Michigan, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the state’s zero tolerance driving under the influence law does not apply to medical marijuana patients when it is based on the mere presence of THC in a patient’s blood stream. Because THC can remain in a person’s system for days after it is consumed, the only other result would have meant that thousands of medical marijuana patients would be driving illegally simply for having used their medicine hours or days earlier.

Rodney Koon
Rodney Koon

Rodney Koon — a medical marijuana patient — was stopped while driving and later accused of a DUI because he had THC in his system. He said he had not used his medicine in six hours. The state Supreme Court found that under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act — which was drafted by MPP — a registered patient cannot be penalized or arrested for the “internal possession” of marijuana, so long as the patient complies with the requirements of the law. The initiative’s protections trump the state’s zero tolerance law for registered patients. The court noted the law does not allow patients to drive when they are under the influence of marijuana.

New Study Shows Moderate Marijuana Use is Not Associated with Breathing Problems

A study released by the American Medical Association is getting a whole lot of attention this week, as it rightly should. This study, which shows that people who smoke marijuana exhibit little to no harmful pulmonary effects from their use, pokes a gigantic, gaping hole in one of the most often-employed attacks against marijuana reform.

According to the 20-year study, those who used marijuana occasionally (2-3 times a month) did not show any decrease in lung functioning and, in some cases, actually showed improvements. This is in glaring contrast to cigarette smokers, who displayed significantly less breathing ability at the end of the study. Even some heavy marijuana users showed no decrease in function.

Of course, this is antithetical to what prohibitionists and scaremongers have been claiming about marijuana for decades. One of the most commonly used arguments against marijuana reform is that it is too dangerous to be used as a medicine because of the lung damage caused by smoking (even though many patients prefer vaporizing or eating their medicine). By this logic, making marijuana legal for recreational use is out of the question because of the threat to public health and the associated costs that would be incurred.

The American Medical Association just invalidated that argument. This is the latest in what appears to be a trend of science exposing the lies in the major prohibitionist talking points.

Take teen use, for example. The drug czar has repeatedly tried to blame medical marijuana and reformers on the increase in teen marijuana use, saying that it “sends the wrong message” to young people. By looking at the available data for medical marijuana states, however, MPP was able to show that in most of those states, teen use actually decreased after the implementation of medical marijuana laws. It appears that the message reformers are sending teens is that marijuana is not as glamorous when being used by a cancer patient. That is quite a bit better than the message being sent by the government, which is that teens cannot handle hearing legitimate policy debates and that it is worth lying to them and arresting them to stop others from using marijuana in the future (a tactic we can see has failed by comparing our continuously high arrest rates with the increasing rate of teen and adult use).

Another point, brought up most often by law enforcement, is that if more people are using marijuana, the roads will become more dangerous. They conjure images of stoned drivers and bloodstained pavement and complain about lack of effective tools by which to judge marijuana impairment. This argument was similarly refuted by a recent study that showed traffic fatalities also decreased in states that allowed the medical use of marijuana. Apparently, access to marijuana leads to a drop in alcohol sales, particularly among people who may self-medicate with alcohol for painful conditions. This, combined with the fact that driving while under the influence of marijuana is far safer (yet still potentially dangerous; no one should drive impaired on any substance), leads to a marked decrease in fatal car accidents.

(As a side note, there is a time-tested and proven way of determining impairment caused by any substance or condition. It is called Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and has been in use since there have been cars on the roads. In recent years, this tool has become much more accurate through research and increased training protocols.)

The vast majority of arguments against reform tend to be based on emotion. They have little to do with facts. As more and more research becomes available that disproves the propaganda, hopefully more people will see through the smokescreen of lies and fear. When they do, our nation will make great strides toward enacting rational marijuana policies.

Michigan Attorney General Wants to Make Life Harder for Sick People

Have you ever noticed how prohibitionists in power keep fighting medical marijuana by saying that it is out of control, and somehow causing a breakdown in society, endangering the public, sending the wrong message to kids, etc.? Have you also noticed that they will freely spend time and taxpayer money trying to undermine medical marijuana programs and restrict the rights of patients?

We’re seeing it in Arizona with Gov. Jan Brewer’s egregious lawsuit to interfere with her state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law, which even the federal government thinks is a waste of time. We’re seeing it in Oregon, where a local sheriff is so hellbent on denying the 2nd Amendment rights of medical marijuana patients that he is willing to use state funds to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Now, long-time medical marijuana foe Bill Schuette, attorney general of Michigan, has announced his plans to  introduce legislation this fall that would supposedly stop the abuse of the medical marijuana system there.

Hold on a minute. Aren’t law enforcement supposed to enforce the laws, not make them? That’s a topic for another time.

The main focus of the as-yet-unfinished bill will be curbing the amount of “drugged-driving” accidents by severely limiting the ability of medical marijuana patients to ever drive a car.

From the press release:

“Schuette noted confusing inconsistencies between the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code and the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act must be eliminated to preserve safety on Michigan roadways.  A longstanding safety provision in the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code prohibits driving with any amount of marijuana in your system.  In contrast, the MMMA references driving “under the influence of marijuana,” a term which is not defined in state law or by uniform scientific standards, and creates a different standard for medical marijuana users. …

Schuette cited statistics recently released by the Michigan State Police which indicate that marijuana-related fatalities remain the most common drug-related automobile fatality, and that such fatalities are on the rise in Michigan.

“Driving with marijuana in your system is unsafe and jeopardizes the safety of our roadways,” said Schuette.  “If you take drugs, don’t take the wheel.”

It is never a good idea to get behind the wheel while impaired by any substance. That being said, the statements of the attorney general can best be described as baseless fear-mongering.

First of all, multiple studies and mountains of anecdotal evidence have proven that merely having marijuana in one’s system is not an indicator of impairment, or even intoxication. Marijuana metabolites can stay in one’s system for up to a month after using it, and THC can stay in one’s system for a week. Yet the effects wear off within a few hours. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act recognizes this by changing the wording of driving restrictions for medical marijuana patients to driving “under the influence,”, meaning that the patient has medicated recently and is still experiencing some intoxicating effects. Despite Schuette’s claim, “under the influence” is used in the provision of Michigan’s DUI laws that apply to all other prescription medications — MCL 257.625 (1)(a).

Under the changes proposed by Schuette, this difference would be removed, making it illegal for patients to operate a car with any marijuana in their system whatsoever. Most medical marijuana patients always have marijuana in their system. Even those who only use occasionally may have to use large amounts that can leave traces in the body for some time.

Basically, this amounts to saying that if a person finds that marijuana is the best medicine to treat their condition, he or she must forfeit their driving privileges or wait weeks after medicating to drive. This restriction is not applied to any other medicine in Michigan. This is medical bigotry, plain and simple. Patients are already dealing with trying to live normal lives and treat their conditions. They have it hard enough as it is. And Bill Schuette wants to make their lives even harder.

Secondly, the assertion that marijuana is involved in more automobile related fatalities than any other drug is completely false, unless one uses the definition that the Attorney General would like to apply to medical marijuana patients. The study cited in the press release used just that definition, however, and counted every fatal accident in which the driver had any marijuana in his or her system! This means that if someone smokes a joint, and three weeks later gets in a car (maybe after a few cocktails) and kills someone, it is a marijuana-related auto fatality.

It sure is easy to scare people when you don’t care about science.

This is illustrative of the need to get away from chemical intoxication testing and go back to physical impairment tests in driving situations. It should not matter what is in someone’s bloodstream, particularly for medical marijuana patients. Whether or not they are impaired should be the primary concern for law enforcement, and they don’t need fancy blood tests or saliva swabs to determine that. They’ve been doing just fine since the invention of the automobile.

 

NASCAR Continues Campaign Against Marijuana, Suspends “Spotter”

Once again, the top brass at NASCAR have taken a stand against marijuana users. Yesterday, officials for the racing organization suspended crewmember and former driver Randy LaJoie indefinitely after he tested positive for marijuana. The test was not to make sure that he could be a driver, but that he could be a spotter. For those of you not familiar with racing, the spotter sits in the stands and relays car positions to his or her driver through a headset. Please forgive my ignorance of the details of racing, but it seems as if this is basically a professional spectator, with the enviable bonus of getting to yell at the driver.

Seriously, a drug test is required for this job.

LaJolie now joins the massive ranks of athletes and celebrities forced to apologize for using a substance safer than alcohol.

“I screwed up,” LaJolie said in an interview the day he was suspended.

NASCAR’s behavior is not that surprising. Back in March, officials waited until the last minute to deny Cannabis Planet TV the opportunity to sponsor, and place advertisements on, one of the cars. The car was allowed to race, but with different sponsors.

It seems like the world of racing is lining up against marijuana. In a recent press release, the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced the start of a new campaign with Indy 500 racer Sarah Fisher to combat drugged driving.

This is all well and good. MPP does not advocate driving under the influence of any substance, including marijuana. It just seems strange that ONDCP and the racing community would spend valuable resources targeting marijuana in light of a recent study that shows marijuana use has very little impact on driving ability.

To date, NASCAR is still on very good terms with its alcohol sponsors.