Senate bill would shield unimpaired medical marijuana users from DUI charges

Ioannis Pashakis//June 26, 2020

Senate bill would shield unimpaired medical marijuana users from DUI charges

Ioannis Pashakis//June 26, 2020

A bill introduced in the state Senate would remove zero tolerance DUI penalties for Pennsylvania medical cannabis license holders and require proof the driver was impaired while driving.

The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Beaver, Washington and Greene counties, said the legislation would eliminate the risk medical cannabis users would be charged with a crime if THC is found in their blood.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that provides a high to users. CBD, or cannabidiol is a legal, non-psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis. THC is still detectable in a blood test even among patients using low THC and high CBD products, which can result in a DUI charge under current law.

Bartolotta said in a statement that the legal use of the medicine should not give rise to a criminal conviction.

“Patients fought tooth and nail for years to see the use of medical cannabis legalized to treat a variety of terrible health conditions,” she said. “They should have the peace of mind to know that they will not be punished later for using their prescriptions responsibly.”

Most conditions treated with marijuana are long standing chronic medical conditions that medical cannabis does not cure but instead provides relief for. In those cases, Hauser said that the drug cannot be used once a month on a bad day if the patient wants to see optimal benefits.

Other forms of medical cannabis used to reduce seizures and relieve pain from conditions such as multiple sclerosis, are low in THC and high in CBD.

When pharmacists at Organic Remedies, a medical marijuana dispensary in Enola, Cumberland County, speak to new patients, they advise them not to drive while using the medication.

They do that because even someone licensed to use medical marijuana can test positive for marijuana use long after they’ve metabolized the drug, according to Eric Hauser, president of Organic Remedies.

“Let’s say there was an accident while driving where someone ran into the patient,” he said. “The patient was not impaired and isn’t doing anything wrong, but someone else accidentally ran into them. The patient gets a drug test and they test positive for THC and get a DUI. There is no grey area there.”

Bartolotta’s proposed rule change is something Organic Remedies has advocated for since medical marijuana was legalized in 2018. Hauser said he is hopeful that the legislation will make its way through the Senate.

“I hope lawmakers will look through the lens of a patient and think about what that means for the 250,000 plus people who are medical marijuana patients,” he said.