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Driving while impaired not acceptable

March 1, 2010
By Dionna Harris

ESCANABA - Alice, when she went through the looking glass in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's adventures in Wonderland," came across various colorful characters.

The one character which stands out is the Queen of Hearts. Another colorful character was Tweedledee, said, "Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."

This same type of logical attitude was brought up recently concerning a contradiction between established state laws regarding the use of medical marijuana and whether an individual has the "right" to operate any motor vehicle while prescribed medical marijuana for any list of specific medical ailments.

Article Photos

Dionna Harris

During the November 2008 election, 63 percent of voters in Michigan approved the use of medical marijuana to help ease the effects of medical conditions and subsequent treatments which may or may not be worse than the actual medical condition or disease.

However, in direct conflict with the passage of the medical marijuana law, allowing people with a card to legally grow, possess and use marijuana is the statute prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs.

The chemical agent THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive substance found in cannabis plants, can remain present in a person's system for a short a period of time such as two hours or as long as six weeks.

Recently, protesters outside of the Delta County Courthouse called into question the rationale behind the arrest and subsequent charge brought against a Marquette County resident on a charge of operating under the influence of drugs.

While this individual does have the necessary paperwork, stating they have applied for, but have not yet received their medical marijuana card.

An investigation into the controlled substances allegedly found in the vehicle revealed substances were specifically for the person stopped by law enforcement. The paperwork held by the person who was stopped and a follow-up investigation by police, led to the dismissal of additional charges which were brought in addition to the initial civil infraction of speeding.

The stance taken by the protesters recently is based upon the perception that they will be or are being persecuted by law enforcement officials, just for having applied for and received a medical marijuana card.

Under the referendum passed in 2008, anyone who has a legally issued card cannot be arrested for possession of marijuana. The law does specify the amount of marijuana which can be possessed, in addition to the number of cannabis plants which can be grown for medicinal purposes.

The law, however, does not allow people who use medical marijuana to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence.

The key words here are under the influence. While the presence of THC can remain in a person's system for sometime, the effect of the psychoactive agent does wear off.

The Michigan Marijuana Project, which aided in passage of the referendum noted on its Web site, "Id cards will protect patients from arrest under state law, provided they are in compliance with the law." It does not say a person who is using medical marijuana can operate a motor vehicle while under the influence.

Any rational person who may be using medical marijuana for a host of conditions, while not under the influence of the psychoactive agent (THC) can operate a motor vehicle.

Law enforcement officials do not as a rule of thumb arrest people randomly. They also do not seek to become involved in cases where a person's Fourth Amendment rights are violated also.

(The Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement from engaging in illegal search and seizure of personal property.)

The underlying issue which is being lost, is this person was stopped for allegedly speeding which is a civil infraction.

The presence of other controlled substances which may or may not have been (in the defense of law enforcement officers) for the person who was stopped for speeding.

There appears to have been a suspicion or other evidence used by the law enforcement officer to seek out a test which led to the charge of driving under the influence of drugs.

If not for the underlying civil infraction of speeding (allegedly 15 miles over the speed limit) the officer in question would never have known this individual has a medical marijuana card.

It is not the current state statute which needs to change, but rather the concept of people accepting responsibility for their actions.

The solution is quite simple, if using medical marijuana, don't operate a motor vehicle while the euphoric affects of THC are active-wait until the affects have worn off.

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Dionna Haris is a staff writer for the Daily Press



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