Medical marijuana has been legal in Pennsylvania for more than a year now. Dispensaries will soon be up and running, but police have concerns users legally prescribed the drug could get charged with DUI under current laws, even if they’re not intoxicated.
Pennsylvania State Police say alcohol DUIs are down but drug DUIs are way up in York County, and this could have unintended consequences for those who eventually end up using medical marijuana.
“Marijuana is a psychoactive drugs, and it can be hazardous to drive on it in large amounts,” said Trooper James Spencer, spokesperson with Pennsylvania State Police Troop J, which covers York and Lancaster Counties.
However, Spencer believes the state’s laws need to be updated for medical marijuana users who are taking it in small doses.
“It is still a schedule one drug, and schedule one meaning there is no medical reasoning for that drug,” Spencer said.
That’s Pennsylvania’s current marijuana law under the vehicle code.
“It states that any amount of marijuana or a schedule one substance in your blood is a DUI,” Spencer said.
The Pennsylvania Bulletin is the second standard for DUI. It states more than one nanogram of THC per milliliter of blood is illegal.
“You are going to have people who have medical marijuana that was prescribed by a doctor taking the marijuana,” Spencer said. “They get behind the wheel, and they going to be DUIs.”
“I would agree that we need to look at it,” said Sen. Mike Regan, (R-York/Cumberland Counties).
Regan wants to talk with Senator Mike Folmer, who sponsored the medical marijuana legislation, after hearing the concerns from PSP.
“It’s a good idea,” Regan said. “We need to come up with something. We need to strike a balance between compassion and safety, which is always important. We’ll see what happens. I could certainly see myself being involved in getting that piece of legislation passed.”
Regan believes Pennsylvania needs look at the 28 other states with medical marijuana laws.
“This could be an issue, so it’s time for us to act,” Regan said. “Medical marijuana is a drug that can be used for people who have an array of illnesses. It’s important that we’re compassionate but also we be cognizant of the fact that they need to be safe out on the roads. I agree. I think it’s something we need to look at as a legislature.”
York County had 238 drug DUI crashes in 2016 and 261 in 2017. It saw 268 alcohol-related DUI crashes in 2016 and 254 in 2017. Crashes involving both alcohol and drugs were 41 in 2016 and 42 in 2017, according to Spencer.
The Journal of Law and Economics studied 19 states where medical marijuana is legal and reports an eight to 11 percent decrease in traffic deaths.
“I’m not sure of the reason. It could be due to fewer people using opioids,” Regan said.
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled medical marijuana users cannot be convicted of DUI unless law enforcement can prove they’re driving impaired. Washington and Colorado allow users to have up to five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.