Florida legislators continue to struggle with last year’s decision by voters to legalize medicinal cannabis through an amendment to the state constitution. Some legislators, concerned that medical marijuana might lead to a rash of people “driving while stoned,” have proposed new laws to expand existing DUI laws to cover THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. However, medical and law enforcement experts caution that alcohol and marijuana are not interchangeable, and methods used to detect the former will not work the latter.
Are Blood Tests Effective for Marijuana?
On January 12, state Rep. David Silvers of West Palm Beach filed House Bill 237, a measure that would expand Florida’s existing DIU laws to cover driving under the influence of THC. Specifically, HB 237 proposes that a person is illegally “driving under the influence” if he or she has a “blood level of 5 nanograms or more” of THC per “milliliter of blood.” This would apply to both operating a motor vehicle or a boat.
Thousands of bills are introduced every year in the Florida legislature. Most are never passed and die while pending before a committee or subcommittee. Silvers’ HB 237 was referred to a House subcommittee on January 23 and has not been acted upon since.
One reason for the lack of action may be the questionable science behind using blood tests to determine whether a marijuana user is incapable of safely operating a car or boat. Law enforcement has decades of proven experience using blood and breath tests for alcohol impairment. But THC is a much different creature than alcohol.
According to a 2016 report from NPR, while “[m]easuring the volume of alcohol in one part of your body can predictably tell you how much is in any other part of your body,” the same is not true of THC. Marijuana intoxication does not work as uniformly. For one thing, THC is soluble in fat, which means it can accumulate in fatty tissues–such as the brain–even after it has left the person’s bloodstream. And if THC is consumed without smoking it–e.g., eating a “pot brownie”–there will be no trace of it whatsoever in the blood.
As one researcher told NPR, state legislators want to come up with “one number” to define marijuana intoxication–as HB 237 does with “5 nanograms”–but the science simply does not support such a standard. The researcher noted that while “[o]ccasional users can be very impaired at one microgram per liter,” chronic users, including possibly individuals taking prescribed medical cannabis, “will be over one microgram per liter maybe for weeks.”
Have You Been Charged With an Orlando DUI?
Given the state of the science, HB 237 is unlikely to become law in is present form. Even its sponsor told the Miami New Times that he “had not reviewed studies” on the issue and was open to amending the bill.
Remember, even without this legislation, DUI based on alcohol remains a serious criminal offense. If you have been arrested and charged with DUI, it is imperative you speak with a qualified Orlando criminal defense attorney right away. Contact the offices of Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, today at 407-377-0150 to speak with a lawyer right away.