How Should Michigan Test for Marijuana Impaired Drivers?

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How Should Michigan Test for Marijuana Impaired Drivers?

Synopsis

  • Michigan voters approved the use of recreational marijuana last November, making it the 10th state and the first in the Midwest to legalize the drug derived from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa.
  • While several U.S. states have set a blood level for impaired driving due to THC, a chemical found in marijuana, recommendations have recently been made for Michigan lawmakers to not set a threshold to define drugged driving until an accurate test is available to show marijuana use in a driver’s system at time of the assumed impairment.
  • State officials suggest the continued use of roadside sobriety tests to determine whether a driver is impaired and should not be operating a motor vehicle.
  • Michigan lawmakers have been battling this issue since 2008 when medical marijuana became legal and individuals worried about being unfairly prosecuted based on how law enforcement was going to regulate its use on the state’s roadways.

Will Michigan’s New Marijuana Regulatory Agency Finally Set Driving Impairment Standards?

How law enforcement is going to regulate marijuana use, both medicinal and recreational, especially on our state’s roadways, has been an issue for Michigan lawmakers to address since 2008 when medicinal marijuana become legal in the state. Several pieces of legislation and pilot programs have been introduced over the years to detect THC in alleged impaired drivers through road-side saliva testing and collecting blood or urine samples. Now that marijuana for recreational use is legal and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has established the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to more efficiently regulate the drug’s use, common standards for law enforcement to use when testing a driver suspected to be under the influence of marijuana and operating impaired must be set.

A Michigan state commission group recently suggested that the science behind marijuana use, technology and testing needs to catch up to legalization regulations before THC’s true impairment levels can be tested accurately to determine a driver’s impairment. The recommendation was made in a March 2019 report from the state’s Impaired Driving Safety Commission and suggests lawmakers not set a marijuana mark to define drugged driving, parallel to the .08 blood alcohol content threshold for drunk driving because each person’s body processes THC and marijuana differently than booze.

The group also recommends that if police suspect drivers are high, officers should use their own discretion and perform the same roadside tests as for drunk drivers, an act which can come with its own questionable outcomes. Only 20 percent of Michigan police have advanced training in detecting whether drivers have taken drugs and drug and alcohol combinations.

Testing Marijuana Impaired Drivers

More work needs to be done to evaluate how drivers can be tested before a full understanding of how to validate a crash caused by a marijuana-impaired operator. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and almost every qualified researcher that studies this issue have publicly noted that there are concerns with current marijuana-impaired driving information. Tests using a driver’s saliva or blood can pick up traces even if the person is not impaired at the time of a crash. The driver responsible for a crash may have used marijuana the day before the accident and the tests could still show THC to be positive in their system.

michigan marijuana laws

As mentioned earlier, determining a legal marijuana threshold is also tough because:

  • Many drivers who cause crashes are found to have both drugs and alcohol or more than one drug in their system, making it hard to know which substance had the greater effect.
  • Proving impaired driving by someone who is taking valid prescription drugs can be difficult.
  • Many Michigan officers are not trained to identify the signs and symptoms of drivers impaired by drugs other than alcohol.
  • A standard roadside test to detect drug levels in the body doesn’t yet exist in the state.
  • Police don’t usually test for drugs if drivers have reached an illegal blood alcohol level because there’s already enough evidence for a DUI charge.

Research findings published in the 2015 “Traffic Safety Facts: Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk” report, the NHTSA notes that drivers high on pot could have distorted critical driving skills such as reaction time, judgment, anticipation and attention.

Marijuana Users Should Adopt These Safe Driving Practices

Impaired driving as the result of any drug use is going to put all drivers, passengers, pedestrians and other road users at a higher risk for being involved in a fatal accident or traumatic injury. Everyone who uses marijuana can take steps to reduce the amount of risks to others while traveling Michigan roads. The Law Offices of Lee Steinberg offers these six impaired driving tips to keep you and others safe.

  1. Refrain from using drugs (and alcohol) before or while driving.
  2. Offer to be a designated driver to someone who uses drugs (or alcohol).
  3. If you feel impaired, use ride-share services.
  4. Appoint a designated driver to take all car keys when at a gathering where drugs (and alcohol) are present.
  5. Discuss the risks of drugged driving with family, teens, and friends.
  6. Lead by example.

Michigan is a zero-tolerance state, meaning drivers can be prosecuted for any amount of cocaine or Schedule 1 drug in their system except for those individuals who hold a medical marijuana card.

Navigating Drugged Driving Accident Injury Claims 

The attorneys and staff at the Law Offices of Lee Steinberg understand that marijuana impaired driving cases can be difficult to process. We hope if you are involved in an accident involving a drugged driver that you will call us for help. Our motor vehicle accident lawyers will be ready to support you in your time of need and healing, and we can help decrease the financial pressures on your family by aggressively collecting the evidence needed to pursue a claim on your behalf.

Contact one of our experienced Michigan injury lawyers today to get started with your FREE consultation: 1-800-LEE-FREE.

Sources: Impact of the Legalization and Decriminalization of Marijuana On the DWI System, Governors Highway Safety Association and NHTSA. AND Drug Impaired Driving: A Guide for States, Governors Highway Safety Association.

About the Author:

Eric joined the Law Offices of Lee Steinberg, P.C to fight for injury victims throughout Michigan. He has been selected to Super Lawyers and is a member of the National Trial Lawyers Top 40 Under 40. A graduate of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, he devotes 100% of his practice to representing victims who have been injured by the negligence of others. He is on the Executive Board for the Michigan Association for Justice.

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