Pennsylvania senators heard testimony on Tuesday about a bill to protect medical marijuana patients from prosecution under the state’s “zero tolerance” DUI laws.
Medical professionals, lawyers and law enforcement officials spoke to the Senate Transport Committee, highlighting the unique complications that patients and police face under the current law and the constitutionality of the proposed reform.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R), would amend state law to require proof of active impairment before a registered patient can be prosecuted for driving under the influence. The current lack of specific protections for the state’s approximately 368,000 patients puts them in legal danger when they are on the road, supporters say.
âUnfortunately, Pennsylvania’s DUI zero tolerance law does not contemplate the difference between the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana,â Bartolotta told committee members at the hearing. “For this reason, healthy patients are currently at risk of being arrested, prosecuted and convicted for using medicinal marijuana that does not affect their ability to drive a vehicle.”
My remarks from today’s Senate Transport Committee regarding my legislation that would update Title 75 to ensure that legal medical cannabis patients who are not debilitated do not receive a DUI conviction.
Full story: https://t.co/YDJwcLgdUn
– Senator Bartolotta (@senbartolotta) September 21, 2021
While many other medical cannabis states require proof of impairment or have self-imposed THC limits for driving, Pennsylvania maintains a zero tolerance policy for marijuana.
Patrick Nightingale, a criminal defense attorney who is also part of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership reform organization, told the committee that the current law allows people to be prosecuted for having cannabis metabolites in their system. flying. It’s troubling, he said, because these compounds can be present for weeks after a person has ingested marijuana, and that doesn’t prove active deficiency.
He said that while everyone agrees that medical cannabis patients should not be given a free pass to drive while intoxicated on marijuana, the bill would simply align policy. state over science and provide the necessary protections to patients.
âI am very encouraged that Senator Bartolotta was ready to speak on behalf of patients in Pennsylvania. We’ve been fighting for over two years to get some traction on DUI reform bills, âNightingale told Marijuana Moment. He added that he is convinced that because the sponsor is part of the majority party in the legislature, the bill will go through committee and ultimately be enacted.
The legislation would essentially ensure that medical cannabis is treated the same by law enforcement as Schedule II and III drugs, such as prescription opioids and anxiolytics.
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“This, in my opinion as a criminal defense lawyer, activist and medical cannabis patient, is the most pressing issue facing our 350,000 and more medical cannabis patients,” Nightingale said.
Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML, submitted written testimony to the committee.
“Zero tolerance DUI prosecutions and convictions without proof of actual impairment and the use of non-psychoactive metabolites are unscientific and without any rational support,” he said, adding that even in and of itself, the limits of THC for drivers that have been imposed in other states are unscientific attempts. addressing the problem without recognizing the complex pharmacokinetic properties of cannabis and its effects on consumers.
Committee members did not vote on the proposal on Tuesday, but the hearing sets the stage for further action.
Another bill we are discussing is SB 167, which would require proof of intoxication for a medical marijuana patient who receives a DUI. Currently, those with prescriptions for medical marijuana may be at risk of losing their license to use medications prescribed by a physician.
– Senator John Kane (@SenatorJohnKane) September 21, 2021
Bartolotta first introduced an earlier version of her bill in June 2020. She said at the time that the state must “ensure that legal use of this drug does not result in a conviction. criminal â.
Months after the introduction of the autonomous reform legislation, the Pennsylvania House approved a separate amendment that would enact the policy change.
Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016, with the state’s first dispensaries opening in 2018. But the state’s zero tolerance DUI law still does not reflect these changes.
“Healthy patients are currently at risk of arrest, prosecution and conviction for using medicinal marijuana that does not affect their ability to drive a vehicle,” the senator wrote in a co-sponsorship note at the end. from last year. “Given the very serious consequences of a conviction for impaired driving, my legislation will provide essential protections for patients with medicinal cannabis by ensuring that responsible use of their legal medicine does not result in a criminal conviction.” . “
Witnesses who testified on Tuesday pointed out that the evidence is unclear on the relationship between THC levels in the blood and impairment.
The # PASenate Transport Committee received testimony during a hearing on my # SB167 which would update Title 75 to ensure that legal medical cannabis patients who are not debilitated do not receive a drinking and driving conviction. @PASenateGOP @SenLangerholc https://t.co/UufWjRjVvi
– Senator Bartolotta (@senbartolotta) September 21, 2021
A study published in 2019, for example, concluded that those that lead to the legal limit of THC, which is typically between two and five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, were not statistically more likely to be involved in an accident than people who have not used marijuana.
Separately, the Congressional Research Service determined in 2019 that if âmarijuana use can affect a person’s response times and motor performanceâ¦ studies on the impact of marijuana use on a person’s risk. driver of being involved in an accident have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of an accident due to the use of marijuana.
Outside of this bill, lawmakers in Pennsylvania have continued to seek legalization of adult use in the state. Earlier this year, two lawmakers circulated a memo to bolster support for a comprehensive reform bill they plan to introduce, for example.
A bipartisan Senate duo are also drafting legislation to legalize cannabis across the Commonwealth. They announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be officially introduced.
Outside of the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year that legalizing marijuana was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request did not contain legislation to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
Wolf, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and lobbied the Republican-controlled legislature to continue reform since it s ‘is ruled in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly thereafter, a lawmaker filed a separate demand. bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
US Senate candidate Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D) previously led a listening tour across the state to seek public input on legalization. He credited this effort with helping the governor pass comprehensive reform. The lieutenant governor even decorated his office on Capitol Hill with a marijuana-themed decor, in violation of a state law passed by the GOP-led legislature.
Fetterman has also been actively involved in encouraging the governor to exercise his clemency power over cannabis cases as the legislature prepares to push reform forward.
In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for cultivating marijuana which he used to relieve his dying wife. This is his 96th pardon for those convicted of cannabis under the expedited review program for non-violent marijuana offenses, administered by the Board of Pardons.
Overall, legalization is popular among voters in Pennsylvania, with 58% of residents saying they are in favor of ending the cannabis ban in a poll released in April.
Another poll released in May found that a majority of voters in the state are also in favor of decriminalizing all currently illegal drugs.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.