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Medical Marijuana Bill, if Passed, Could Require New Drugged Driving Laws

Could Illinois become the eighteenth state to legalize medical marijuana? For the third time in recent memory, lawmakers are pushing for just that, reports the Chicago Tribune. Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, told the Tribune that they were "hovering around the votes needed to pass it." If it does pass, it will not only conflict with federal laws, (which still list marijuana as a controlled substance) but it will also require a new approach to drugged driving.

If the bill passes, it will authorize a three-year pilot program where those suffering from certain listed diseases, such as HIV, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, could qualify for a registration card. The patients could then purchase 2.5 ounces of marijuana from one of 59 nonprofit dispensaries (one per senate district). No home growing is allowed, though those who need more than 2.5 ounces at a time can apply for a waiver for more.

This is all quite interesting, but what about the present state of Illinois’ driving under the influence of marijuana laws? The status quo is that any hint of cannabis in a person’s system, whether hours or days old, is sufficient for a DUI. It’s a “zero tolerance” type of law that doesn’t fit well with a medical marijuana state. The solution in the statute is to allow medical marijuana patients to drive six hours after consuming marijuana.

Is that really a solution? How can an officer tell if it has been six hours? What about someone who gets truly baked, or who consumes pot brownies, or who sucks on a pot lollipop over the course of a long afternoon? Unless there is a lit joint in the ashtray, or a cloud of weed smoke wafts out of the window, it will be difficult for an officer to prove that a person waited less than six hours. The standard is too vague.

On the other hand, attempts to set a numerical level have also met opposition in other states. In Washington, the new law that allows recreational use of cannabis also sets the legal limit for driving at 5 nanograms per milliliter, a limit many argue is too low. Some studies say that the prescribed level is equivalent to a 0.05 blood alcohol level, or far below the current legal limit. Other studies have shown that driving performance deteriorates at that level.

Whether 5 nanograms is too few or too many, it is at least a more reasonable rule than Illinois’ current zero tolerance limit and seems more objective and more measurable than the proposed “six hour rule.”

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