By Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
Per se driving limits for the presence of THC are arbitrary and may improperly classify motorists who are not behaviorally impaired, according to the findings of a study published today by the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Per se driving limits criminalize the act of operating a motor vehicle if the driver possesses detectable amounts of specific drugs or drug metabolites above a set threshold. Under these laws, drivers are guilty per se of violating the traffic safety laws even absent evidence of demonstrable behavioral impairment.
Five states - Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington - presently impose per se limits for the detection of specific amounts of THC in blood while eleven states (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin) impose zero tolerant per se standards. In Colorado, the presence of THC in blood above 5ng/ml "gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence." Legislation similar to Colorado's law is presently pending in California.
However, the AAA report concludes, "[A] quantitative threshold for per se laws for THC following cannabis use cannot be scientifically reported." This is because the body metabolizes THC in a manner that is significantly distinct from alcohol. In particular, acute effects of cannabinoids lag well behind the presence of maximum THC/blood levels. Additionally, residual levels of THC may be present in blood for extended periods of time, long after any psychomotor-related effects have ceased.
The Automobile Association's finding is similar to that of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which acknowledges: "It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person's THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects. ... It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone."
NORML has long articulated a similar opposition to the imposition of per se driving thresholds for THC and/or its metabolites, stating, "[R]ecently adopted statewide per se limits and zero tolerant per se thresholds in the United States criminally prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle by persons with the trace presence of cannabinoids or cannabinoid metabolites in their blood or urine are not based upon scientific evidence or consensus. ... [T]he enforcement of these strict liability standards risks inappropriately convicting unimpaired subjects of traffic safety violations, including those persons who are consuming cannabis legally in accordance with other state statutes."