It took three hearings, some major media exposure and behind-the-scenes action but the proposal to use roadside saliva tests to check drivers for marijuana use has been dropped from pending legislation in Michigan.
During a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on May 15 a substitute version of House Bill 5385 was submitted by the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-St. Clair. The H-3 substitute contained no references to the controversial saliva testing program for marijuana and other drugs that has brought unwanted scrutiny to Rep. Lauwers' three bill package. Originally written to improve communication between police agencies by using Michigan's in-car law enforcement computer system to track drivers who test positive on preliminary roadside impairment testing, the package added on the oral drug test program and was introduced with that language on March 4.
The roadside saliva testing component of the bill was championed by the Michigan State Police and faced stiff opposition from activists in Michigan's medical marijuana community.
"It was indicative of the advocates who were there to explain (the lack of science)... and the legislature's willingness to consider these things, that the most onerous element of this bill were taken out," said Rep. Jeff Irwin, D- Ann Arbor, a Judiciary Committee member who was present for all three hearings and who repeatedly questioned the testing program.
At the first hearing on HB 5385 concerns were raised about the science involved in the evaluation and capture of saliva samples, the absence of federal use or FDA approval of the oral swabs, and the lack of standardized testing. Testimony was heard from Rick Thompson of Americans for Safe Access- Michigan and The Compassion Chronicles (TCC); Robin Schneider, legislative chairwoman for the National Patients Rights Association (NPRA); Eric Gunnels, a Trustee for Thetford Township; and Ben Horner, leader of the Cannabis Stakeholders Group.
The second hearing began with an amendment from Rep. Lauwers offering to change the statewide program to a limited experimental program, courtesy of pressure from marijuana law reform advocates.
"When these bills were brought forward it was not anticipated that it would create a level of concern, but a level of concern has arisen especially from the medical marijuana constituency in the state. And their concern is, what saliva test would be used, how would the saliva test be used and what is the accuracy and accountability ... of this test," Rep. Lauwers related to Committee. "Because we are unable to answer those questions clearly at this time, that is the purpose of this amendment" and the creation of the pilot program.
The amendment would have allowed saliva testing in a pilot program incorporating up to five Michigan counties and encompassing at least three years. The language of the amendment and the original bill were not congruent, the amendment was sprung on the Committee and the marijuana community members present by surprise, and confusion ensued. Thompson was the only advocate allowed to testify, but Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Kevin Cotter, R- Mt. Pleasant, got the message. He gave both sides one week to work out the details.
Lansing insiders met and amid pressure from the NPRA and the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, Rep. Lauwers agreed to park the provision allowing saliva tests on drivers. On May 15th, the bill's third hearing, Rep. Lauwers introduced the H-3 substitute that "basically removes the discussion about the saliva test and the pilot program" from the bill, as he explained it to Committee.
The H-3 substitute was adopted by Committee without any additional testimony. The amended version of HB 5385 moves on to a vote of the full House of Representatives with no saliva testing on board. No date has been set yet for consideration of the three-bill package.
"There were a number of folks there from the medical marijuana community who stepped forward and pointed out some of the facts... about the roadside saliva test," Irwin said."I thank everybody that chipped in because I think it made a big difference."
Irwin made his comments during a broadcast the evening of the 15th on the Planet Green Trees Internet Radio Show, while being interviewed by show host and attorney Michael Komorn, 3rd Coast Compassion Center's Jamie Lowell, and Thompson.