Editorial: Pot testing program absurd

The Detroit News

Before breaking for the summer, the Legislature approved an extra-constitutional one-year pilot program that allows police officers to conduct roadside saliva testing on drivers they suspect might be under the influence of a variety of drugs.

It’s the kind of legislation that sounds beneficial, but threatens privacy and due process rights. Gov. Rick Snyder should veto a bill that is bound to be a litigation machine.

The test can identify the presence of certain controlled substances in an individual’s body, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana.

But unlike alcohol, the test only confirms that the drugs are present in the blood, not the level. So it assumes that any trace of marijuana or the other drugs indicates driving impairment, an assumption contradicted by a recent study from AAA’s safety foundation.

The insurer’s study found there’s no common blood level of the active ingredient in pot at which driving generally becomes impaired, and that for the most part, it depends on the individual. Drivers with higher levels of THC in their systems might drive as well as those who’ve never touched the drug, particularly if they’re regular marijuana users. Others with low levels might be unsafe behind the wheel.

Further, marijuana can be detected in saliva for several days after being ingested or smoked, long after a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle would be affected.

These issues pose problems particularly for Michigan medical marijuana patients, who already struggle under a vague, inaccessible and discriminatory system. This absurd roadside testing bill essentially takes away their right to drive.

A House Fiscal Agency analysis of this legislation argued marijuana patients shouldn’t have new problems “as long as they do not show signs of impaired driving and are otherwise in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.”

But complying with the act is already unclear for many patients, and this only makes it worse.

And “signs of impaired driving” is a highly subjective standard.

This legislation comes from Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, the Legislature’s resident Puritan, a former law enforcement officer intent on imposing his prohibitionist worldview on the rest of Michigan.

Under the law, if a driver refuses the roadside saliva test, he or she would be given a civil infraction ticket, the same as those who refuse tests for alcohol.

The law provides no direction for what is to be done with tests after they’re administered, carrying with them highly sensitive personal information and genetic material.

The saliva tests will be costly — roughly $30 each — and require extra training for law enforcement. The tests will take at least 20-30 minutes to administer, tying up officers from other important work.

This program, as currently written, is too vague to be properly or fairly administered. It will end up costing the state much more time and money than it’s worth.