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Reliable testing for THC impairment still a bridge too far

As was noted in our last post, social attitudes toward marijuana use seem to be easing. Legal attitudes, however, are proving to be moving at a much slower pace. Still, there are signs of change even there.

Last month, a group of lawmakers from New Jersey went to Colorado to learn more about the affects to the state from legalizing marijuana. Not only is medical marijuana use OK there, but recreational use is now legal, too. Could recreational use win approval in The Garden State?

Gov. Chris Christie says it won't happen on his watch. And there are many who share his concern about the implications of legalization in terms of impaired driving. Even as moves toward relaxing marijuana laws generally increase, critics are pushing new laws to crack down on driving under the influence of drugs.

While such reactions are understandable, some say there's reason to be cautious about moving too fast. The laws in question would criminalize impairment due to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The trouble is that the association between marijuana impairment and accidents isn't as well accepted legally as it is in cases where blood alcohol levels are shown to be over the legal limit.

Additionally, no one is sure how much THC needs to be in evidence in a suspect's system to indicate impairment. Current testing may indicate the presence of THC, but science can't say whether that logically means impairment. THC also can remain in the system long after possible impairment has passed.

Considering that courts have been known to entertain challenges to alcohol DUI cases based on the way a defendant's metabolism handles alcohol, it seems safe to say that instituting a bright-line test at this point for marijuana would be problematic.

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