A ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court has police officers scratching their heads in confusion over motorists driving while under the influence of marijuana. The court ruled June 8 that it's not illegal for motorists to drive with metabolites -- a derivative of THC, the substance that gives smokers a high -- in their system.
The court reasoned that because the law didn't define metabolites, they can't be considered controlled substances and used to convict motorists under Michigan's drugged driving law. Stoned drivers face penalties of up to 93 days in jail and license suspensions.
The ruling overturned a 2006 decision by the court. Some say it also wiped out what had been a zero-tolerance drugged driving law.
Opponents said because metabolites can linger in the system for weeks, the law unfairly punished drivers who may have smoked marijuana days or weeks before.
A zero-tolerance policy for metabolites has "tremendous potential for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement" based on variable laboratory standards in reach of a positive test and the "the whim of police and prosecutors," according to the ruling. The opinion also said that since the state now allows medical marijuana, the old ruling could punish legal users of the drug.
"Individuals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes will be prohibited from driving long after the person is no longer impaired," Justice Michael F. Cavanagh wrote.
"Indeed ... experts testified that, on average, the metabolite could remain in a person's blood for 18 hours and in a person's urine for up to four weeks."
Why it matters
The ruling came just weeks after the Michigan State Police released its 2009 Michigan Drunk Driving Audit, which showed that while there was a decline in alcohol-related crashes, fatalities and arrests, there was a small increase in crashes and injuries involving drugs.
Traffic deaths from alcohol and/or drug related crashes decreased to 351 in 2009 from 379 in 2008. Injuries over the same time involving alcohol/drugs increased to 6,271 from 6,248. Some of that increase was attributable to an additional 83 injuries involving drugged drivers.
"We are continuing to see drugs playing a larger role in traffic crashes and injuries," said Col. Eddie L. Washington Jr., director of the MSP. "However, much of that increase is due to expanded drug testing requests by law enforcement following an arrest."
The ruling mostly leaves law enforcement officers in a legal limbo, said Sgt. Christopher Hawkins, legislative liaison for the state police.
"We're in a frustrating situation," Hawkins said.
"It's almost like the courts are saying that we can arrest if we find marijuana on you, but it's different if we find marijuana in you."
Hawkins said the State Police, as well as the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Association, plan to approach the Michigan Legislature to change the substance act to define what metabolites are and to iron out the issue of drivers with medical marijuana cards.
NewsHawk: Ganjarden: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: The Detroit News
Author: Tom Greenwood
Contact: The Detroit News
Copyright: 2010 The Detroit News
Website: Ruling clouds pot smoking, driving law