A Key Take Away from the State Bar of Michigan's Marijuana Law Conference

Sarissa Montague

I recently attended the fourth annual Marijuana Law Conference, sponsored by the State Bar of Michigan’s Marijuana Law Section, along with the Institute of Continuing Legal Education

One of the sessions I found most interesting and relevant to my practice of law during the three-day conference was, “The Influence of Cannabis on Psychomotor Performance and Accident Risk,” presented by Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). 

With Michigan’s legalization of marijuana in 2018, the issue of operating under the influence of marijuana has come to the forefront of criminal law practices throughout the state. Earlier this year, the Impaired Driving Commission issued a report recommending against the establishment of a threshold of the amount of THC bodily content for determining driver impairment. Instead, the IDC recommended the use of a roadside sobriety test(s) to determine whether a driver is impaired. Several months later, it is still unclear how Michigan will prosecute cases of operating under the influence of marijuana.

The relationship between being under the influence of cannabis and driving is completely different from the relationship between being under the influence of alcohol and driving. The risk of treating the two situations the same is fundamentally unfair to those accused of operating under the influence of marijuana. Just because a person has THC in their system, it is not predictive or correlative to that person’s ability to drive a car. The frequency of use, the amount of use, and the length of time that one has used are among numerous factors that must be considered when determining one’s ability to operate a vehicle. 

In addition, the Field Sobriety Tests that have been validated to determine one’s alcohol impairment are being used to detect cannabis use, even though the tests are not validated for cannabis use. While the IDC recommends using Field Sobriety Tests when determining if a driver is impaired, there is an issue with this practice because the standard Field Sobriety Tests are not validated to determine a person’s impairment from marijuana.

This is a very complicated issue and one that needs to be handled carefully in a court of law.  Levine & Levine is staying on top of the developments in this topic of the law and will provide updates accordingly.

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