The 2016 Tennessee legislative session, which ended on April 23, saw an incremental improvement in the state’s marijuana policies. Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam signed HB 1478 into law, which will eliminate the provision that makes a third conviction for possession of marijuana a felony. The law will take effect on July 1, 2016.
This change will reduce the penalty for third-time possession from between one and six years of incarceration to less than one year in jail. In addition, having a misdemeanor rather than a felony record will reduce the collateral consequences associated with the conviction. The bill also increases penalties for repeat DUI offenders and defelonizes third-time possession of all drugs except for heroin.
There is more work to be done, however. The sentences for marijuana possession are still unduly harsh for a drug that is less harmful than alcohol, and the law is enforced in a racially disparate manner. If you are a Tennessee resident, please ask your legislators to consider removing all criminal penalties for marijuana possession in next year’s session.
In April, SB 162, introduced by Sen. Arthur Orr, passed the Alabama Senate. It now awaits action in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. This bill would declare anyone with five nanograms of THC per milliliter in their blood guilty of driving under the influence — regardless of whether the person was actually impaired!
Although intoxicated driving should not be tolerated, knee jerk ideas like per se limits for THC are unethical, unscientific, and unnecessary. Alabama already criminalizes impaired driving. This bill would unfairly target medical marijuana patients who could have higher levels of THC in their blood without being impaired.
Recent peer-reviewed studies have concluded that low levels of active THC can remain in a person’s system long after the intoxicating effects of THC have worn off — sometimes for several days. THC levels can even increase in a person’s bloodstream days after consuming marijuana, but without the person being impaired. SB 162 would therefore result in individuals who are not impaired to be found guilty of DUI-D.
If you are an Alabama resident, please email your representative and ask him or her to oppose this bill.
A new study conducted by the federal government shows that marijuana use may not have a serious impact on road safety.
According to the Detroit News:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said a 20-month survey of drivers in 2013 and 2014 found that while drinking dramatically raises the chance of a crash, there was no evidence that marijuana use is statistically significant in boosting wreck rates.
Marijuana users were about 25 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use. But that's because other factors — especially that more younger men are involved in crashes, NHTSA said — rather than marijuana use itself.
By comparing marijuana use among those in crashes and those who weren't, the safety agency said "other factors, such as age and gender, appear to account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users."
While this suggests that making marijuana legal for adults will not lead to more dangerous roads, as opponents to reform frequently claim, MPP's Mason Tvert maintains that driving under the influence must be avoided:
"Nobody should drive while impaired by any substance, and that's why there are laws on the books to address it. While the research is pretty clear that marijuana use is not remotely as problematic as alcohol when it comes to driving, it can cause impairment. We need to have laws that are grounded in science and punish only drivers who were actually impaired. It's worth noting that there is also research that has shown people who have used marijuana are more likely to recognize if they are impaired than those who have used alcohol," he said.
But he said police often go too far.
"Arresting hundreds of thousands of people for simply possessing marijuana will not do anything to prevent people who make the mistake of driving under the influence. We would never approach the problem of drunk driving by making it illegal for adults to drink responsibly. It's just as foolish to do that when it comes to adults who use marijuana responsibly," he said.
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 — 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.