A controversial new bill has been introduced into the Florida House of Representatives that would put a limitation on the amount of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) one could have in their blood before they are considered to be legally impaired.
The goal of the bill is an admirable one: To reduce the risk that drivers will take to the roads while stoned or otherwise under the influence of marijuana. This is important especially now that Florida has approved legislation that allows marijuana to be possessed and distributed by and for those with specific medical conditions. The measure, if approved, would be applicable to both drivers and boaters, and would go into effect in October.
The reason HB 237, also known as the Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Act, is controversial is that there is a fair amount of scientific evidence tending to show that the level of THC in one’s blood or urine is not indicative of whether a person is in fact intoxicated. It has to do with the way these chemicals are processed by the human body.
For instance, alcohol passes the body very quickly. That’s why if an individual has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, we can make a reasonable assertion that he or she was illegally impaired. We know the alcohol was consumed fairly recently, and the higher that BAC is, the more alcohol the person likely consumed. Of course, there may be individual variations depending on one’s own body chemistry, but by-and-large, this is a scientifically-accepted method.
However, measuring the amount of THC in the body as a means of impairment is not, as of this writing, a method that has gained widespread scientific acceptance. That’s because THC is what we call “fat soluble,” which means it dissolves in fat. It does not actually peak in the system while the person is actually impaired, but rather after the fact. So the amount of THC detected in the blood could actually be higher after the psychoactive effects of the drug has worn off.
This is further complicated by the fact that there are numerous ways to ingest marijuana. For example, one could smoke it, but one could also consume it via an edible, such as a brownie or candy. Edible marijuana often doesn’t lead to higher levels of THC in the blood stream, which means we may actually be missing some opportunities to stop impaired drivers with this statute.
This is relevant of course to criminal defense attorneys, but it’s also important for Miami car accident lawyers to understand as well. Of course, impairment of one driver does not automatically equal liability in a crash. However, it can be a powerful piece of evidence in an injury lawsuit. Proving that one’s THC level is higher than a certain amount may not be definitive enough to establish impairment. However, the presence of that drug in one’s system – alongside other collaborative evidence of impairment (i.e., bloodshot eyes, delayed motor skill reaction times, reduced cognitive function) – can be used against a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit.
Our goal is to fight for the rights of the injured, and of course, we support law enforcement officers having every opportunity to stop this kind of reckless act before it hurts someone. However, it can only be effective if it can stand up to scrutiny in court.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
State Bill Would Create THC Limit for Stoned Drivers, but Scientists Say It’s Useless, Jan. 13, 2017, By Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times
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Florida Pedestrian Accident Risk Higher Than Anywhere Else in U.S., Jan. 20, 2017, Miami Injury Lawyer Blog