A committee convened by the Maine Department of Public Safety says it doesn’t believe that Maine needs to set a limit for determining whether a motorist is impaired by marijuana. The recommendation is likely to stir debate among law enforcement officials and legislators as implementation of the voter-approved recreational marijuana law plods forward.
Committee chair Scot Maddox said the state need not alter its operating under the influence law or create new blood-level limits for THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. Instead, he said lawmakers should provide additional funding to train police officers, prosecutors and even judges to recognize marijuana impairment and its dangers while driving. He said there should also be a robust public education campaign.
State Sen. Mark Dion, a Portland Democrat and former police officer, said he’s surprised by the recommendation, as blood level tests for alcohol play a key role in OUI arrests and convictions.
“If you blow a 1.5 on the breath test, it kind of validates the officer’s conclusions that you’re impaired, and there’s a lot of weight placed on that breath test. If someone is arrested for cannabis influence impairment, all we have is the confirmation that cannabis is present. And it doesn’t necessarily validate the observations of the officer,” he said.
But Maddox, speaking before the Legislature Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee, said Maine’s current impairment law is sufficient — at least for now.
“The basis of under the influence is irrelevant as far as the law is concerned. Whether you’re impaired because you’re drinking alcohol or whether you’re impaired because you’re taking prescription medications, or you’re impaired because you’re smoking marijuana, the difference is none, as far as the law is concerned,” Maddox said.
He said that officers trained to identify marijuana impairment can still make an arrest and use a blood test to bolster their case for a conviction.
Last year a bill that would have set a THC limit failed in the Legislature because there was disagreement over what would be an appropriate limit to determine impairment.
The issue has dogged the more than two dozen states that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes — or in Maine’s case, both. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nearly 20 states have set limits on THC in the bloodstream while operating a vehicle.
A number of studies have found that marijuana degrades a person’s ability to drive, but research on whether it causes accidents has been mixed. The same goes for studies determining the appropriate level of THC to determine driving impairment, in part because THC has been found to affect people differently.