Medical Marijuana & Driving: New PA Bill to Provide DUI Protections for Medical Marijuana Patients

A measure to protect Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday in a 13-0 vote, reported PennLive.

Under the bill medical cannabis is to be equally treated like any other prescription narcotic, requiring proof of impairment of the person’s ability to drive in order to be charged with DUI.

The legislation from Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington County is now heading to the Senate for review.

Senate Bill 167 is critically needed to protect the medical cannabis community as the penalties for a controlled substance significantly escalate,” Bartolotta told the committee.

Under the current law, over 700,000 medical marijuana patients risk being arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for taking their medicine while operating a motor vehicle.

Proving Impairment Is Not An Easy Task

However, it seems that accurately proving that a driver is impaired as a result of marijuana use remains a daunting scientific challenge, as a recent study published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews showed that blood and oral fluid THC concentrations are relatively poor or inconsistent indicators of cannabis-induced impairment.

“Higher blood THC concentrations were only weakly associated with increased impairment in occasional cannabis users while no significant relationship was detected in regular cannabis users,” the report’s lead author, Dr. Danielle McCartney said. “This suggests that blood and oral fluid THC concentrations are relatively poor indicators of cannabis-THC-induced impairment.” The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative.

Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to advise businesses on how to develop marijuana policies. The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) continues to warn about the inherent risks of driving while under the influence of THC.

“Other than alcohol, marijuana is frequently reported found in post-crash testing,” stated the recently issued report. “This substance needs to be addressed as part of all workplace motor vehicle safety programs.”

Regular Cannabis Users Are Better Drivers

While the number of fatal car crashes involving cannabis has more than doubled in the past several years, some cannabis consumers claim that driving while high does not affect their ability to operate an automobile, but rather makes them better drivers.

Interestingly, according to new driving simulator data published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention, those who use marijuana regularly drive better after all as compared to occasional users.

“Those with a pattern of occasional use were significantly more likely to experience a lane departure during distraction periods after acute cannabis use relative to baseline, while those with daily use did not exhibit a similar increase,” said researchers from the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus and the University of Iowa.

This article, written by Jelena Martinovic, was originally published to Benzinga on June 29, 2022 and can be read in full here.