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HARRISBURG — Legislation introduced in the state House on Thursday would protect medical marijuana patients from being charged with DUI simply because drug tests show the presence of THC in their systems.
The legislation would not provide any safety net for marijuana users who are not enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program and it would not protect drivers who are found to be impaired by marijuana while driving whether they are medical marijuana patients or not.
There are more than 425,000 people with active patient certifications allowing them to use medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The issue is festering even as some lawmakers push to expand eligibility for medical marijuana — while current law only allows those with specified qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana, Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland, and Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, announced plans earlier this year for legislation that would allow doctors to certify patients to use medical marijuana for any condition. It also comes as most of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have legalized adult recreational use of marijuana and elected officials here debate whether to do the same.
The issue of how to police marijuana use by drivers has proven to be a thorny one since drug tests detect the presence of marijuana long after the individual has ceased to be impaired by the drug. Pennsylvania law allows police to charge drivers with DUI when marijuana use is detected, regardless of impairment.
“In 2016, the PA General Assembly voted to legalize medicinal use of cannabis. Sadly, the legislature failed to provide these patients the same privileges afforded to others who have legal prescriptions for a scheduled medication,” according to a cosponsor memo from Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne. “Medicinal cannabis patients regularly contact our offices concerned that state law makes it illegal for them to drive,” they said in their cosponsor memo.
Pennsylvania is one of only a few states with zero tolerance for controlled substances. Thirty-three states, including those with no legal access to cannabis, require proof of actual impairment.
Similar legislation was introduced last session but didn’t move out of the Transportation Committee.
Attempts to resolve the conflict between the DUI law and the medical marijuana law have also surfaced in the state Senate. The Senate Transportation Committee approved Senate Bill 167 last June but the bill didn’t get a vote in the full Senate before the end of the 2021-22 legislative session.
“During a Senate Transportation Committee meeting last September, representatives of the Pennsylvania State Police testified that the bill would not adversely impact their mission to keep the highways and byways of the Commonwealth free of impaired drivers,” Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, the prime sponsor of SB 167, said in a statement at the time of that committee vote.