My Sunday Times Argus brought the cheery news that the American Automobile Association, well-known haven for hippies and pot-smokers, had released a report throwing shade on saliva testing for detecting marijuana-impaired drivers.
You may recall that the Legislature came verrry close to enacting a law that relied on spit tests, even though a report commissioned by the state questioned their efficacy.
The AAA report’s conclusion: “There is no scientific way to prove if someone is under the influence of [marijuana] while driving.”
The spit test indicates the pressence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in a driver’s system. The problem is the lack of a clear relationship between the quantity of THC and a driver’s level of impairment. Some drivers are just fine with a hefty dose of THC, and some are iffy with very low levels.
Of particular importance: those who use marijuana medicinally are likely to have high levels of THC in their systems, but still be just fine behind the wheel.
This isn’t good news for Vermont’s law enforcement community, which staunchly defends the spit test. So now comes Greg Nagurney, Vermont’s traffic safety resource officer, to cover that pig with lipstick.
Nagurney suggested a metaphor of having your wisdom teeth extracted. He said when he got his taken out, the doctor told him he needed to bring someone with him to drive him home if he was going to get a prescription for painkillers.
“Are there people who are medical marijuana users who would like to be able to drive? Sure,” he said. “But if they use to the extent that it impairs them, they shouldn’t drive and they aren’t allowed to drive under our laws.”
Okay, well, a couple of points here.
First, there’s a difference between a one-shot painkiller and a regular dose of marijuana. If you can’t drive for a few hours, that’s no biggie. But he’s effectively putting an indefinite suspension on the licenses of medical-marijuana users. What, they’re never supposed to drive?
Second, he misses the whole point of the AAA study. It shows that some drivers with high THC levels are not, in fact, impaired. His presumption is baseless.
But wait, there’s more!
He said those accused of impaired driving who are habitual users of marijuana are able to bring their own evidence to court to show why they may have a high level of THC in their system, yet they aren’t impaired by it.
Oh, great. So medical marijuana users are subject to arrest, saliva testing, and a trial, where they can roll the dice with “their own evidence.” Which is what, exactly? The accused driver is standing across from a police officer with questionable credentials as a “drug recognition officer” who testifies that the driver was impaired and there’s a saliva test result to “prove” it, and the driver is supposed to overcome all of that?
Plus, any such defense would include the potentially damaging admission that the defendant is a frequent pot smoker. Can you spell “self-incrimination,” kiddies?
Even if that system worked, it opens the door to routine harassment. How many times would a medical-marijuana user have to be dragged into court before (a) s/he acquires a reputation with police and the judge, or (b) is forced to choose between driving and marijuana?
What if you live in a small town and the local bluie has a bug up his butt about marijuana? He knows you, he knows you use medicinal weed. You could get pulled over anytime you’re on the road.
The continued advocacy of saliva testing looks like a backdoor way to effectively ban medical marijuana, by putting users in legal jeopardy.
Besides, as Allen Gilbert of the Vermont ACLU points out, the whole thing is a waste of the cops’ and the courts’ time.
Gilbert said someone would get charged based on the saliva test reading that they’re impaired despite no evidence that a certain level of THC means there is impairment. He said the case would be thrown out of court because it’s not valid evidence.
Guys, I don’t think there’s enough lipstick in the world.