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Vt. Panel Backs Testing Drivers’ Saliva for Pot



VtDigger
Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A commission empaneled by the governor to advise him on issues related to marijuana legalization is advocating for legislation to allow law enforcement officers to use saliva testing to detect the presence of drugs in motorists.

The recommendation was one of several discussed at a Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission meeting on Tuesday morning at the Statehouse, and also included in the panel’s first report to the governor issued later in the afternoon.

The panel’s report also called for increased drug education and prevention efforts and bolstering data collection initiatives.

The report was issued after a bill, H.511, passed the Legislature last week, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Vermont. Gov. Phil Scott has said he would sign the legislation, and he is expected to do so any day. It would then go into effect on July 1.

Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson, chairman of the commission’s subcommittee on roadway safety, said on Tuesday he saw saliva tests as one more tool for officers to use when determining whether a motorist is impaired, like field sobriety tests.

“The admissibility in court of the results of saliva/oral fluid testing will be for the trial courts and ultimately the Vermont Supreme Court to decide,” the subcommittee recommendation to the full commission stated.

The governor created the commission last summer, and on Tuesday it issued its first “progress” report. A final report due on Dec. 15 will look closer at issues surrounding the establishment of a tax and regulated marijuana retail market system.

“So that the governor and other decision makers will have the benefit of that information when considering whether to support taking that next step,” said Tom Little, co-chairman of the commission.

The commission includes heads of the state departments of public safety, health and taxes as well as lawmakers.

During debate on the marijuana legalization bill in the Legislature this month, several lawmakers raised questions about highway safety and testing for drivers who are impaired by marijuana use.

The 27-page commission report issued on Tuesday says lawmakers should pass legislation that enables law enforcement to conduct roadside “oral fluid screening tests” and calls on the public safety commissioner to adopt rules relating to saliva testing as a preliminary screening device and a method for the analysis of an evidentiary sample of saliva/oral fluids.

The commission’s report notes that Vermont law currently prohibits any level of impairment due to cannabis use when operating a vehicle.

Also, according to the report, science has not reached a point where reliable metrics can provide a set standard for determining intoxication based on detectable THC levels. As a result, the report stated, the commission does not recommend establishing such a “per se” limit of THC at this time.

For comparison, the legal limit blood-alcohol content is 0.08 percent for driving in Vermont.

Other commission recommendations included:

The creation of a non-legislative body with rulemaking authority made up of law enforcement and health officials to review data and scientific developments and determine whether and when a reasonable and scientifically reliable “per se” limit can be adopted.

Implementation of a public education campaign about the dangers of driving under the influence of intoxicants in generan of THC in particular.

Creation of educational materials and programs with efforts particularly focused on youth education and prevention. The Vermont Department of Health should lead the initiative, coordinating education and prevention efforts with those of the Governor’s Opioid Coordination Council.

Better data collection, including establishing protocols for gathering information relating to cannabis-related crimes, quality of life complaints and cannabis-related traffic incidents.

The commission’s report doesn’t weigh in on the legalization debate. However, the report does state that cannabis is widely available and consumed in Vermont already.

“Thus, while legalization will inevitably have effects on usage rates and frequency among all demographic groups, many of the issues that must be addressed as a consequence of cannabis production and use exist regardless of whether adult consumption is legally permitted,” according to the report.

The legislation passed by the Legislature and expected to be signed soon by the governor allows for the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana and two mature and four immature marijuana plants by people 21 or older.