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Pa. state senator: Medical marijuana card is no proof of DUI, laws should change

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - This fall, Pennsylvania lawmakers are expected to address a medical marijuana issue that has lingered since the program was enacted in 2016.

As KDKA political editor Jon Delano explains, it's whether anyone with a medical marijuana card is automatically guilty of a DUI when driving.

More than a half million Pennsylvanians have a medical marijuana card, and most of them drive.

But does that card make them an impaired driver while on the road?

"A glitch in Pennsylvania's DUI law allows Pennsylvanians who are legitimately using a state-approved medication to be prosecuted to conviction regardless of whether or not they were impaired by that," says attorney Patrick Nightingale, who represents cannabis users. Top Videos00:2001:28Woman shot multiple times inside vehicle inBrighton Heights

Because of the state's zero-tolerance rule for driving with any federal schedule one drug – which cannabis is – police have charged drivers with a DUI just for showing them their state medical marijuana card, says Nightingale.

"With Pennsylvania's zero-tolerance statute, every single medical marijuana patient is DUI 24/7, 365 [days], regardless of whether or not they are impaired," he notes.

"My bill says you must prove impairment in order to be given a DUI," says Pa. Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Washington County Republican.

Bartolotta has re-introduced her bill, Senate Bill 363, to remove the assumption that every medical marijuana user is an impaired driver, and she expects Senate action soon.

Delano: "Can somebody who is on medical marijuana be an impaired driver?" Bartolotta: "Absolutely. Someone who is taking medicinal cannabis absolutely could be impaired, but not all are."

Unlike the blood alcohol test for drunk driving, Bartolotta says researchers are working on but have no definitive test yet to prove what level of THC or other elements of marijuana actually impair driving.

That leaves it up to standard field sobriety tests and police observation to determine impairment, says Nightingale, like "the walk and turn, finger to nose, horizontal gaze nystagmus, and make additional observations that that officer can in their professional opinion associate with being impaired."

But just having a medical marijuana card would no longer be automatic proof that you're driving under the influence.

Says Nightingale, "I would submit that law enforcement is very well equipped to detect either alcohol- or drug-impaired drivers."

Bartolotta and Nightingale say you are not obligated to tell a police officer that you use medical cannabis or are required to show your medical marijuana card.

Both say to keep that card far away from your driver's license that you must show.

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