Feds: Don't Bake and Drive!
U.S. Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., on March 4 introduced legislation in the U.S. House that would withhold federal highway funding from states that fail to pass a stiff anti-drugged driving law. Porter's HR 3907 requires states to enact legislation that defines "drugged driving" and creates mandatory minimum penalties for anyone convicted of driving while under the influence of illegal drugs. "Although [drugged driving] has not received the same attention" as drunken driving, Porter said in a press release, "drugged driving is a growing epidemic." Under Porter's proposed legislation, every state must pass a drugged-driving law, which much be approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, no later than Oct. 1, 2006, or lose a portion of federal highway funds starting with a 1% recapture in fiscal year 2007, growing to a 50% recapture by FY 2013.
Drug policy reformers with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws are wary of Porter's proposal because it does not specify what kind of law states must pass to satisfy the federal government. Currently there are two types of drugged-driving laws on the books. The first, known as an "effect-based" laws, requires prosecutors to gather empirical evidence that a driver is actually under the influence of drugs at the time of a wreck or other incident in order to prosecute the offense. The second, known as a "zero tolerance per se" statute, empowers prosecutors to try drugged-driving cases even if the only evidence of any drug use is the presence in blood or urine of a drug metabolite a residual compound left in the body (in some cases for a very long time) after the potentially impairing effects of a drug, such as marijuana, are long gone.
Drug advocates are concerned that federal drug warriors may use Porter's legislation as a way to coerce individual states into enacting zero-tolerance statutes. "While driving impaired by marijuana or other illicit and licit drugs is never acceptable, neither is it acceptable to treat sober drivers as if they are impaired simply because low levels of inactive marijuana metabolites may be detectable," NORML executive director Keith Stroup said in the organization's weekly newsletter. "These 'zero tolerance' laws are neither a safe nor sensible way to identify impaired drivers; they are an attempt to misuse the traffic safety laws to identify and prosecute marijuana smokers per se."