LUCID Act Update: Details About Federal Stoned-Driving Bill Proposal

Additional images and more below.
Additional images and more below.
File photo

Update: Earlier this week, we told you about Congressman Jared Polis's introduction of the LUCID Act, a piece of legislation that proposes federal guidelines to address the issue of stoned driving — and noted pushback against it by assorted cannabis activists.

Turns out, however, that Polis had first introduced a version of the LUCID Act in 2014, and most of the criticism we cited pertained to that proposal. We apologize for the error and have adjusted our previous coverage on view below to reflect the proper chronology.

Regarding the 2015 LUCID Act, representatives of Polis's office stress that there are differences between it and the previous iteration. Here's the office's statement on the topic:

Like last year’s version, this year’s LUCID Act requires every state with some form of legal marijuana to have and enforce a law prohibiting marijuana-impaired driving, and it leaves the specifics of those laws up to each state. This year’s bill is different in that it calls upon the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conduct scientific testing into how marijuana impairs driving and the most effective mechanisms for determining and testing for marijuana impairment. NHTSA is directed to take the results of this testing together with existing research on the subject to issue comprehensive guidance on the best practices for states to keep their roads safe from impaired drivers. These changes will help states craft laws and enforcement mechanisms to stop impaired driving that are based on the most recent science.

Look below to see the new proposal, followed by our previous coverage.

Original post, 4:20 p.m. June 2: Colorado Representative Jared Polis is considered to be among the most marijuana-friendly legislators elected to national office.

Earlier this year, for instance, he was cited as a role model by the #IVoteCannabis campaign.

But that doesn't mean pot activists universally support his policies.

Case in point: He's received pushback for his sponsorship of the just-introduced LUCID Act, which proposes establishing federal guidelines to prevent stoned driving.

Polis proposed a version of the LUCID Act in 2014, but it didn't pass — so he's trying again.

Among supporters of the latest proposal is Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who signed a 2013 measure that established a pot-intoxication level of five nanograms of THC (cannabis' active ingredient) per milliliter of blood — something that remains controversial to this day.

As we've reported, driving while stoned was illegal in Colorado before the passage of the aforementioned legislation. But unlike in the case of alcohol, there was no number at which a marijuana-using driver was considered to be officially impaired — and cannabis activists saw that as a good thing, since the science on the subject is infinitely less certain than it is in the case of booze.

Nonetheless, the medical marijuana industry boom caused assorted legislators to believe one was needed anyhow.

Legislation from 2011 and 2012 would have established the five nanogram standard per se — meaning that a test registering five nanograms or more would have been seen as irrefutable proof of intoxication. In response, critics argued that because THC tends to linger in users for longer periods of time, it's next to impossible to determine actual impairment via a blood test, at least under presently available technology.

That's especially true for medical marijuana patients.

Representative Jared Polis.EXPAND
Representative Jared Polis.
File photo

An example is provided by a 2011 post in which MMJ critic William Breathes's blood tested at nearly triple the legal limit fifteen hours after he last smoked, with a doctor declaring him to be sober.

In 2013, the five nanogram limit was still part of the legislation, but the per se language vanished from the measure, sponsored by Representative Rhonda Fields. Instead, the text referred to "permissible inference," which would allow people who register at five nanograms or above to present other evidence in court to prove that they weren't actually impaired, rather than being considered guilty as a result of the test reading.

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Marijuana attorney Rob Corry saw this change as only a slight improvement over the previous legislation, making the new proposal 95 percent bad as opposed to 100 percent. Yet the bill breezed to passage anyhow, with Hickenlooper making it law shortly thereafter.

The LUCID Act doesn't aim to duplicate Colorado's law. Rather than establishing the five nanogram limit, the original version merely calls for an unspecified standard to be set by each state in order to receive federal highway funding. We've included the entire 2014 document below, but here's its official summary:

Makes eligible for federal-aid highway project grants a state whose law legalizes the use of marijuana with or without medical justification only if that state: (1) has in effect a law prohibiting an individual from driving or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while impaired by marijuana, and (2) enforces that law using training and methods for determining cognitive or physical marijuana impairment.

Exempts those states from specified administrative penalties.

Revises the terms "driving while intoxicated" and "driving under the influence" to accord with this Act. Subjects repeat offenders to minimum civil and criminal penalties for driving a motor vehicle while impaired by marijuana in those states.

In a statement about the new bill, Polis describes the rationale for the legislation like so:  “The LUCID Act saves lives and ensures that states are implementing and enforcing laws to combat marijuana-impaired driving, and that state officials have the tools and knowledge to keep roads safe using strategies that are based on the most recent science.”

John Hickenlooper in a 2011 file photo.
John Hickenlooper in a 2011 file photo.
Photo by Jonathan Shoup

Hickenlooper adds: “The LUCID Act helps to ensure that, however a state decides to police or regulate marijuana, we all stay safe on the road.”

Other LUCID Act supporters include the Colorado District Attorneys Council and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police.

Considerably less jazzed by the prospect of such legislation is marijuana activist Kathleen Chippi, who started a petition about the 2014 version on the AVAAZ.org website entitled "Congressman Jared Polis: Stop introducing unscientific, national, universal DUI-cannabis impairment levels."

Here's an excerpt from the introduction to the petition, seen under the heading "Why This Is Important:"

2-25-14: “New NIDA Study: THC Blood Levels Do Not Accurately Measure Intoxication," so why is congress expanding the federal definition of an impaired marijuana driver and trying to use an unscientific universal THC level in the Rep. Jared Polis LUCID Bill? Having THC in one's blood does NOT prove impairment and now NIDA agrees. Innocent people with THC in their blood are being inappropriately charged with DUI and are forced into unnecessary rehab, drug testing, loss of license, fines, jail etc. The LUCID Bill does help solve the problem of impaired driving and instead traps innocent unimpaired drivers! Kill the LUCID BILL!

"Legislation introduced by Rep. Jared Polis would create a national benchmark to protect citizens from drivers under the influence of marijuana. The Colorado Democrat's bill — the Limiting Unsafe Cannabis-Impaired Driving (LUCID) Act — would expand the federal definition of an impaired driver. If his proposal were enacted, the federal definition would include those who have a cognitive or physical impairment due to the use of marijuana."

Unfortunately and unlike alcohol, every person has a different response to cannabis. That is why for decades the states have their own tests for driving IMPAIRMENT on ANY substance or lack of sleep. In CO before the unscientific limit of 5 nano was passed after being killed numerous times, the state had a 96% conviction rate of DUID drivers. 96% conviction rate! And accident fatalities DECREASED 9% in both CO and Montana ten years AFTER the voters legalized medical marijuana. 

It's too soon to know if Chippi's arguments, and those posted by others on Polis's announcement of the LUCID Act, will influence the legislation. But the bill carries with it the possibility that all fifty states could eventually be required to establish their own way of measuring when a driver is stoned — meaning the laws would change every time a state line is crossed.

Here's the 2014 version of the LUCID Act.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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