(The Center Square) – Three years ago, medical cannabis patient Jesse Roedts told state troopers at a sobriety checkpoint that some of the drug was in his car.
That admission, he said, prompted a search of his vehicle, a field sobriety test – which he passed – and a blood draw to confirm his impairment. The latter revealed carboxy-THC in his system, sparking a DUI charge and costing him thousands in court and attorney fees to fight.
During a preliminary hearing, Roedts said the arresting officer admitted targeting him on charges of DUI when he learned of his medical status. Pennsylvania’s Zero Tolerance Disability Driving Act makes no distinction between medical and recreational cannabis use, placing up to 368,000 registered patients at risk of prosecution for the very presence of THC in their blood.
“The state legalized medical cannabis and then turned hundreds of thousands of patients into potential criminals,” Roedts told the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday to support a legal solution to the loophole. “Reforming this law will give patients the adequate protection that patients deserve. … I know that I am one of many patients who have suffered because of the way the current law is written. “
That is why Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, sponsored it Senate Law 167 amending Title 75 of the Vehicles Code to remove medical cannabis from the legal definition of controlled substance and to include wording that states “If the person is a medical marijuana patient in accordance with the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Act, must evidence of the actual impairment must be provided. “
This is akin to treating drivers found in possession of prescribed drugs, Bartolotta said in a co-sponsorship in December memo. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association is among the supporters of the measure.
“DUI reform is the most pressing problem our medical cannabis patients face,” said Patrick Nightingale, a Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney. “The intent [of the medical cannabis program] Couldn’t have made hundreds of thousands of patients unable to drive. “
Nightingale told the committee that prosecutions for cannabis DUIs are inconsistent across the state. Some district attorneys are withdrawing charges against registered patients, while others are pursuing convictions based on the drug’s Appendix 1 classification.
“Unfortunately there is no consistency, and that makes life interesting not only for defense lawyers, but also for our clients,” he said on Tuesday.
In the Roedts case, the state dropped the charges after the arresting officer testified under oath that he lied because he saw signs of impairment. The court also looked at a record of Roedts’ field sobriety test, which confirmed that it passed with no evidence of poisoning.
Pennsylvania State Police Major Robert Krol said officers would not prosecute DUI charges unless a driver shows signs of impairment. The agency said it supported the law.
“We don’t usually get to the point where we draw blood unless we have indicators” [of impairment]”He said.” We don’t go on fishing expeditions per se to find out whether or not people have something in their system unless we have other evidence. “
Lauren Vrabel, a licensed pharmacist, told the committee that existing drug screenings are “misleading representations of poisoning” because the tests detect the presence of inactive THC metabolites that “do not interact with receptors to induce a high.”
“What this actually represents is simply consumption,” she said. “It’s not an indicator of the timeframe of consumption. Therefore measure [carboxy THC] proof of drunkenness at the time of driving a motor vehicle is arbitrary. “
Roedts said that despite the withdrawn charges, the event had had negative consequences for a lifetime and abused his “rights and privacy”. Local newspapers published his DUI charges, which put his jobs as a music teacher and fire inspector at risk.
“I was embarrassed that I had to reveal personal medical information just to clear my name so I wouldn’t get fired from my two jobs,” he told the committee. “I had to make it clear to them that I was a legal patient and that I wasn’t affected.”
Approximately 368,000 actively registered patients in Pennsylvania use medical cannabis used to treat 23 conditions, from cancer to autism to chronic pain and anxiety to opioid use disorders. Bartolotta said Her bill “will provide vital protection for patients with medicinal cannabis by ensuring that responsible use of their legal medicine does not result in criminal conviction.”