House committee advances pot bill that includes driver saliva testing

Published: 5/3/2019 9:54:30 PM
Modified: 5/3/2019 9:54:17 PM

MONTPELIER — The House committee in charge of crafting legislation to legalize recreational marijuana sales has moved forward a proposal that includes a compromise with the Scott administration on driver saliva testing.

However, the bill may not go far enough for the governor to sign it. Also, some new provisions may not win support from the Senate.

Late Thursday, the House Committee on Government Operations approved this year’s marijuana tax and regulate bill, S.54. The proposal has language addressing roadway safety, which Gov. Phil Scott has said would be required for him to support the bill.

Lawmakers voted 10-1 in favor of moving the legislation out of committee. The bill as passed would permit law enforcement officers to take saliva samples from drivers they suspect are impaired, but with restrictions.

The measure also includes a provision that requires municipalities to vote in favor of allowing marijuana shops within town limits before they can be opened. This is a change from the Senate proposal which would have allowed businesses to open unless the municipality voted against allowing them to do so.

Under the legislation, police officers would not be able to use saliva tests on the roadside, but could administer the test back at the police department—but only after a search warrant has been issued by a judge. The bill also gives police the authority to pull people over if they are not wearing a seatbelt. Currently, police can only issue a ticket for a seat belt violation if the stop was made for another reason.

The House Transportation Committee pushed to add the seatbelt measure into the legislation earlier this week.

The governor has said he would not support commercial marijuana sales legislation if saliva testing was not included in the bill, out of concerns that a legal marijuana market will lead to more impaired driving.

But Democrats have been reluctant to approve saliva testing because the tests can only detect the presence of a drug in someone’s system and not whether someone is impaired at the time the test is taken.

Tom Anderson, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, has said there must be a saliva test that can be used in conjunction with other evidence of impairment to bring cases of driving under the influence to court.

Anderson and the governor have also indicated they would prefer if police officers could use saliva tests without obtaining a warrant.

The Scott administration also wanted more control of the marijuana regulatory board—which is established as part of the legislation.

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