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Good ruling in Michigan

Via NORML’s ezine comes this ruling: (I’m quoting extensively, because it’s pretty important)

Traverse City, MI: The presence of cannabis’ primary metabolite, THC-COOH, is insufficient evidence of impairment to warrant a conviction under the state’s “zero tolerance” per se drugged driving law, according to a recent ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals. The decision upholds a trial court ruling that found the “prosecution must prove that the presence of a controlled substance in a defendant’s body is proximate cause of an accident resulting in death or serious injury” in order for the defendant to be guilty of violating the state’s two-year-old drugged driving statute.

Michigan is one of ten states that have enacted so-called “zero tolerance” drugged driving laws. Under Michigan’s law, it is a criminal offense for an individual to operate a motor vehicle with any detectable level of a Schedule I substance present in his or her bodily fluids. (In six states – Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, and Utah – individuals may be criminally prosecuted if they operate a vehicle with any level of a Schedule I drug or drug metabolite in their system. Three additional states – Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – have enacted per se drugged driving standards, prohibiting individuals from operating a motor vehicle if they have levels of Schedule I drugs present in their body above a specific threshold.)

In the case before the court, the defendant tested positive for the presence of the THC metabolite THC-COOH (a non-psychoactive compound produced during the body’s biological process of converting THC into a water soluble form), but maintained that she was unimpaired at the time of her accident. The prosecution argued that it was not required under Michigan’s “zero tolerance” drugged driving law to establish that the defendant’s impairment caused the accident, only that she had an illegal substance present in her body. The appellate court upheld the trail court’s ruling, affirming that marijuana’s metabolite is neither psychoactive nor classified as an illegal substance, and that the prosecution had failed to prove a causal relationship between the presence of a controlled substance in the defendant’s body and the accident.

Michigan’s Supreme Court had previously held that the legislature did not “intend to impose strict liability on an individual” involved in a driving-related accident, the appellate court determined. Rather, the legislature’s intent is to criminally punish only individuals whose impaired driving causes another person’s injury.

“The defendant’s purposeful operation of [a] vehicle while under the influence must have been a substantial cause of the victim’s death,” the court of appeals determined. It further found that the “legislature did not intend to include [the cannabis metabolite] as a Schedule I controlled substance because it has no pharmacological effect on the human body … and its levels in the blood correlates poorly, if at all, to an individual’s level of THC-related impairment.”

As a result, the appellate court ruled, “Imposing a penalty on a driver when the … accident would have occurred regardless of that intoxication would … fail to serve the purpose of the statute.”

An excellent ruling. These zero tolerance laws are ridiculous, becuase they proclaim to be about safety, yet the levels being tested have absolutely nothing to do with impairment.
It would be the equivalent of saying that if anyone had ever seen you take a drink in the past, then you’re now guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Let’s hope that this kind of sanity continues in other court cases. Legislatures and law enforcement must be held to a standard of actually proving impairment (or a reasonable expectation of actual impairment) if they’re going to enact/enforce substance-related driving laws.

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