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Oklahoma Approves Unscientific Per Se Limits For Cannabis

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marijuana dui duii oklahoma per seBy Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed legislation, House Bill 1441, into law that criminalizes drivers from operating a motor vehicle if they have any detectable amount of THC and/or its inactive metabolites in their blood, saliva, or urine. Under such internal possession statutes, known as zero tolerance per se laws, a motorist who tests positive for the presence of such compounds is guilty per se (in fact) of a criminal traffic safety violation, regardless of whether or not there exist supporting evidence that the defendant was behaviorally impaired by such compounds.

Residual, low levels of THC may remain present in the blood of occasional consumers for several hours after past use and for several days in habitual consumers — long after any behavior-inducing effects of the substance have worn off. The inert carboxy-THC metabolite, a commonly screened for byproduct of THC, possesses a longer half-life in blood and also may be present in the urine of daily cannabis consumers for several weeks, or even months, after past use.

Oklahoma will become the 11th state to impose such a strict liability per se standard once the law takes effect on October 1, 2013. It is the third state this year to amend its traffic safety laws to include either per se thresholds or presumptive limits for cannabinoids.

Ten additional states – Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin – already impose zero tolerance per se thresholds for the presence of cannabinoids and/or their metabolites.

Five states impose non-zero-tolerant per se thresholds for cannabinoids in blood: Montana (5ng/ml — the new law, HB 168, signed in April, takes effect on October 1, 2013), Pennsylvania (1ng/ml), Ohio (2ng/ml), Nevada (2ng/ml) and Washington (5ng/ml).

Last month, Colorado lawmakers also approved legislation, effective as of July 1, 2013, stating that the presence of THC/blood levels above 5ng/ml “gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence.”

However, according to the United States National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA): “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.”

In addition, a 2013 academic review of per se drugged driving laws and their impact on road safety found “no evidence that per se drugged driving laws reduce traffic fatalities.”

NORML argues that it is inadvisable to infer behavioral impairment based on the presence of cannabinoid levels alone — a position that we outline herehere, and in public testimony here.

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2 Comments

  1. They are going to have a big problem the first time someone is cited for a violation based on impairment due to the THC level in their blood when, in fact, it came from a legally prescribed medication called Marinol–pure, pharmaceutical-produced THC. This medication is and has been FDA approved for decades and the states cannot override a federal law allowing the dispensing and use of it–period. And yes, this info was validated by several respected defense attorneys around the country.

    I understand and appreciate the need to remove legitimately impaired drivers from the road. I do not want to encounter them under any circumstances. However, arresting someone on a presumption of impairment even though they clearly had not displayed any form of impairment is absurd and is a direct trampling of individual rights. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen over the past several years, the term “personal rights” has been watered down to the point of near absurdity by those at all levels of government. This law is comparable to saying that someone who sipped one beer a day ago at a birthday party is impaired the following day.
    I suppose there are always going to be some people in positions of authority that have minds that are welded shut and do not care about the clinically confirmed medicinal benefits of medical marijuana (and for some, Marinol) for treating an extensive number of physician diagnosed medical issues. The common answer these people offer when questioned about the medicinal use of cannabis is, “There are plenty of prescription pain medications on the market, they can use those…” When asked the follow-up questions, “Have you ever used any prescription pain medications, and did you experience any unfavorable side effects that may have caused you to refrain from using it?” they simply say, “There are always other prescription pain medication options…” Interestingly, most of the current one-minute TV commercials regarding prescription medication now show about 10-15 seconds of people appearing to be pleased with the outcome, and that’s followed by 45 seconds of a laundry list of common and possible side effects, many of which are life threatening or debilitating.

    The majority of people seem to have realized the potential positive benefits of medical cannabis for treating specified medical conditions that have proven problematic for gaining relief via prescription pain medications. Sadly, those remaining adamantly opposed are not likely to come around any time soon regardless of the mounting legitimate clinical evidence in favor of making this option available as a physician prescribed or recommended alternative. For those successfully using it, regaining a semblance of quality and functional daily life has been somewhat of a miracle. Too much progress has been made to back down now, and eventually the masses will prevail, and rightfully so.

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