Smoke a Joint and Get Busted for DUI…a Month Later?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on November 26th, 2014

How far have we gone in the continuing politically-correct War on Drunk Driving?  How about throwing citizens in jail for driving a car — days, weeks or even months after taking drugs or smoking marijuana?  

Sound ridiculous?


Reformers: Trace Law Unfairly Punishes Drug Users Who Are Not DUI

Proponents are championing legislation to eliminate harsh penalties for drivers who had traces of illegal drugs in their system but were not driving while impaired.

March, 2011.  Chicago, IL.   About a year ago, a 20-year-old Pekin man ran a stop sign, and the ensuing accident killed his passenger. The driver, Brock Meerseman, had marijuana in his system from having ingested the substance a week or more earlier, according to a blood test done at the hospital after the accident.

There was no indication that he was impaired at the time of the accident. Still, under a provision of the Illinois DUI law, Meerseman was cited with driving under the influence and found guilty of aggravated DUI. He faced a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. Had he instead been charged with reckless homicide, the maximum prison sentence would have been three years…

Meerseman is not alone. Many pot-smoking drivers have been charged under the DUI provision. Jeff Hall, a Peoria attorney and member of the ISBA Traffic Laws and Courts Section Council, represented a teenager who had traces of THC in her system from having smoked marijuana earlier. But she was not impaired when she was involved in an accident that resulted in one death and one injury.

"She was sentenced to six years and she has to serve 85 percent of the time," said Hall, who helped draft an amendment to the DUI law that would eliminate such harsh penalties for drivers who are not impaired at the time of an accident. Tests show that the effects of marijuana typically last a couple of hours, even though the presence of the drug shows up in test results for as long as a month or more.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) acknowledges that THC levels are "impossible" predictors of behavioral impairment and that THC-induced impairment is relatively short-lived, Hall said. In addition, the NHTSA states that "it is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone, and currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH concentrations" (see the report at http://www.nhtsa.gov/People/injury/research/job185drugs/cannabis.htm).

The ISBA and other groups want that provision of the law, which was upheld in a 2011 Illinois Supreme Court ruling, removed. According to an ISBA position paper in support of the proposal, "Under the current Illinois Vehicle Code, a driver who is not impaired is still guilty of a DUI offense or aggravated DUI offense if there is any trace of an unlawful drug in their blood or urine. So, if a driver smoked marijuana two weeks before an accident, it is still a crime even though a urinalysis can’t test for active THC metabolites, and the driver showed no evidence of impairment….This isn’t good policy."


Is there any rational reason for such laws — other than for politically-correct legislators to look tough to voters?  What is accomplished (other than breeding contempt for the legal system) by throwing a person in jail for driving a car weeks after using a drug?
 

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