Capitol Alert

Driving while stoned? California critics of pot initiative focus on impaired motorists

5 things you need to know about the California marijuana proposition

California was the first state to allow medical marijuana. Now, two decades later, voters are expected to be asked whether to legalize recreational use of the drug. The legalization measure headed for the statewide November ballot is the product o
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California was the first state to allow medical marijuana. Now, two decades later, voters are expected to be asked whether to legalize recreational use of the drug. The legalization measure headed for the statewide November ballot is the product o

Opponents of the fall measure to legalize recreational marijuana for California adults argued Tuesday that broader marijuana use would endanger motorists.

Speaking to The Sacramento Bee editorial board, Doug Villars, president of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, criticized Proposition 64 for lacking an established standard such as what exists for alcohol. It’s illegal for those with 0.08 percent or more of alcohol in their blood to drive.

“That’s a big deterrent, which keeps people from going out at these higher levels and driving, which obviously has the effect of lessening the amount of traffic accidents in California, lessening the amount of injury accidents and lessening the amount of traffic fatalities we have on a statewide basis,” he said.

Proposition 64 would distribute $15 million to the California Highway Patrol over five years to “develop protocols and best practices for determining when a person is driving while impaired, including from marijuana use.”

In a separate meeting with the editorial board, legalization supporters said they shared the concerns about pot-impaired drivers and had spent months learning about the technology. Retired Redondo Beach police Lt. Diane Goldstein pointed to an American Automobile Association survey finding that the testing standard used for marijuana elsewhere is possibly snaring innocent drivers.

“Their recommendation is enhance law enforcement training in order to better detect driving under the influence of drugs,” Goldstein said.

She also argued that conditions have become safer on the roads despite people driving while high. The in-state mileage death rate, measured by every 100 million miles traveled, started at 1.43 in 1996, when medical marijuana was legalized here, and is now down to 0.92, Goldstein said.

Still, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, another supporter, added there are plans to launch an early round of advertising warning people about driving while impaired.

“There will be a lot of money invested in reminding folks,” Newsom said.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, an opponent of Proposition 64, has repeatedly voiced her concern about impaired drivers, while U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who said she’s leaning toward supporting legalization, has touched on her reservations centering on deadly pot-related crashes.

Villars said he talked with his counterparts in Colorado and Washington, who he said experienced a “huge spike” in marijuana-related deaths on roadways since legalization. Washington drivers involved in deadly crashes who tested positive for marijuana jumped 48 percent over one year, while Colorado had a 36 percent rise, Villars said.

Both states have a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter in drivers’ blood, though Colorado gives those suspected of driving under the influence the chance to present evidence to the contrary at their trial.

In California, after making an arrest for suspicion of driving while using marijuana, an officer could testify to a driver’s impairment level, Villars said, “but because you don’t have something that equates, even scientifically to a 5 nanograms per millileter number – it’s very subjective.”

“DAs in the state of California now don’t even want to file DUI marijuana cases because of the fact that there is no ... set limit,” he added.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, says he has not made up his mind about Proposition 64, the marijuana legalization measure, at a press conference in the Capitol on Aug. 3, 2016.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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