Commentary

Hitchcock: Maine Doesn’t Need OUI Standards for Marijuana

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Recently, the Maine Legislature has been discussing whether the government should set a certain standard in marijuana consumption that would allow authorities to arrest someone for driving under the influence, similar to the blood-alcohol level standard used to determine whether someone is driving under the influence of alcohol.  Yesterday, the proposed standard of five parts per billion of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), also known as what affects the brain in marijuana, was put on hold.   Opponents of the standard pointed to how determining the level of THC in blood is not an exact science, and that level seemed too arbitrary and required more testing.

So the “magical number” that determines a legal blood level of THC goes back to the drawing board, but this author does not believe Maine even needs to come up with a numerical standard.  If a person pulled over is found to have marijuana, mainly THC, in their system, whether legally obtained or not, it should be considered driving under the influence.  Because marijuana is a medical drug in Maine and OUIs involving marijuana now are low, using time and resources to create a standard based on a non-exact science will unnecessarily drain time and resources to create standards, and puts Maine drivers at risk of an increase of impaired drivers.

Some may argue that we have standards for driving under the influence with alcohol, so why not other substances like marijuana?  The main reason why alcohol should have a certain standard for driving under the influence and not marijuana is because, in Maine, marijuana is purely a medical substance, whereas alcohol has legal recreational uses.  If Maine sets a standard for intoxication for marijuana, then the State will need to set standards for all medications that affect motor skills.  These medications come with warnings to not operate machinery because they affect motor functions, and that is exactly what the THC in marijuana does.  Each of these medications comes with a certain chemical that causes the impairment, so the State will have to make standards for all of them if it creates a standard for something only legal for medical purposes.  If Maine allowed recreational marijuana, which may be on the ballot in 2016, it would make more sense to create a standard to limit intoxication.  For now, marijuana is only legally allowed for medicinal purposes, so creating a standard for that will force the government to spend time and resources to find standards for other chemicals, and increase traffic concerns by allowing people to have some level of impairment due to medication.

In addition to the multiple drugs that would require standards, it also appears as though arrests for being under the influence of marijuana are very few, most likely because any level of marijuana is under the influence for drivers, so this does not appear to be a large problem in Maine.  Last year, there were roughly 3,600 arrests for OUIs involving alcohol.  To get that same number in OUIs involving marijuana, the arrests must be counted all the way back to 2004.  It is likely this large number gap is because alcohol does have a standard of intoxication, so people who drink and then want to drive guess at whether they are at that limit, when they are actually over the limit.  With marijuana, any level is against the law, so less people take the risk.  Creating a standard for marijuana intoxication will likely produce results similar to OUI arrests involving alcohol.

Maine does not need a standard of intoxication for OUIs involving marijuana because it will only drain resources in creating other standards, and will likely result in an increase in OUI arrests.

About Nathan Hitchcock

Nathan Hitchcock is currently a law student at the University of Maine School of Law and volunteers as a researcher for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to law school, he attended Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he earned a B.A. in Political Economy.

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