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Criminalizing the Cure

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Current Events

Criminalizing the Cure

Stoners and cannabis advocates around the country are excited about I-502, Washington state’s new law legalizing marijuana, coming into effect last Thursday, but the law and its implementation has some unlikely opponents: medical users of marijuana who want to drive.

Some medical marijuana groups rallied hard against I-502 given the fact that it will not allow patients even with very serious ailments to grow their own plants. However, the latest and loudest complaint is the part of the law that will essentially make it illegal for medical marijuana users to drive themselves anywhere.

In an effort to make legalizing recreational marijuana appeal to more people, part of I-502 includes a provision which makes it is illegal for anyone with over 5 nanograms per milliliter of THC in their blood to operate an automobile. The authors of the initiative insist this provision is based on scientific research, including an Australian study that shows that risk of a fatal car crash increases from 3.5 to 5 nanograms of THC.

But opponents of this provision feel this is not an accurate measure of impairment, as tolerance for THC varies from individual to individual, and because THC can remain in the blood stream for four to six weeks, testing for THC in the blood content cannot be a definitive test of being under the influence. THC is released from the body gradually, so that THC may exist in the blood system without affecting a person at all.

Medical marijuana patients also tend to consume large quantities of marijuana, both because treating major ailments can sometimes require large or frequent doses, and because the longer cannabis is used, the higher the tolerance in a person, and more is required to achieve the same effects after a while. Thus someone who has been medicating for years may have a higher THC content in their blood but be no more impaired than someone who has only been medicating for few months and has a much lower THC content. For some medical users, 5 nanograms per milliliter is an absolutely miniscule amount.

Some studies show that 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter is actually equivalent to a 0.05% blood alcohol level, which is less than the DUI limit of Washington.

Regardless of tolerance, no one should drive if they feel impaired, patient or not, and those who drive under the influence risk getting a DUI even if their level of impairment is subjective. However, many patients and some legislators are hoping to iron out what they deem to be insufficient and unhelpful kinks in the new law.

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