AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative working group set up to make recommendations on how Maine should regulate drivers who use marijuana offered a divided report to lawmakers Tuesday.
The report, due in January, was sent to lawmakers Tuesday after the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee was unable to reach terms on a bill that would have set the standards in 2015.
While the majority of panel members agreed marijuana should be regulated similarly to the way alcohol is, including a blood-content test that sets limits for impairment, a minority on the panel disagreed.
The group included state troopers, prosecutors, advocates for legalized marijuana and those speaking for Maine’s medical marijuana community.
The majority of the 20-person working group voted that Maine should move to a 5 nanogram of THC per blood deciliter standard as a test for marijuana impairment, similar to others states where voters have agreed marijuana should be legal for recreational use.
But opponents to that standard, including the state’s association of criminal defense attorneys, argued the science is inconclusive and suggested the state use a higher 7-nanogram standard but also be required to show “other evidence” of impairment in order to convict a driver of the crime of operating under the influence.
The issue comes to light as a group of advocates for legal marijuana in Maine is poised to turn in more than 62,000 signatures gathered for a petition that would send a question to legalize marijuana for recreational use to Maine voters in November 2016.
The working group, which was headed by the Maine secretary of state’s office, which oversees the state’s driving license laws and provides administrative hearings for those who lose their license for operating under the influence of intoxicating drugs or alcohol, is the result of a Legislative resolve that sought more information before lawmakers could set a standard for marijuana users who may be impaired while driving.
The question of how the state should treat those who use marijuana on the recommendation from their doctor — as allowed under Maine law — also was a key issue in the conversation, according to the 29-page report.
“There wasn’t a consensus,” said David Boyer, who is heading the signature-gathering Committee to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
Boyer was among the minority on the panel who believe testing blood levels for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is an unfair method for determining impairment. He said the law could entrap those who use marijuana as medicine or long-term users who have built up a tolerance to THC in their system.
“Chronic users and patients probably wake up at that level,” said Boyer.
He said his organization agrees that drivers impaired by any mind-altering substance should be kept off Maine roads, but the nanogram standard for marijuana being used by other states is arbitrary and not based on solid science.
The group also made several other recommendations, including that Maine increase its number of drug recognition experts, law officers trained to observe drug-induced impairment.
Maine has only a dozen or so officers certified, and most OUI convictions require a burden of proof that’s often only achieved with physical evidence, such as the results of a blood test.
The working group also recommends Maine develop a public relations campaign to educate drivers and others to the dangers of driving while under the influence of pot.
In Colorado, a state where voters legalized marijuana in 2013, the state’s department of transportation also has launched a video campaign warning drivers that if they choose to “drive high,” they will get a “DWI” (driving while impaired) conviction.
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said the group wrestled with the issue of what would be used as evidence for administratively suspending a driver’s license in the same way that the blood-alcohol standard of .08 is used now.
Dunlap said the group spent the bulk of its four meetings on the topic and that while some suggested a nanogram test for THC was unfair, others also argued they believed the mind-altering effects of a marijuana were such that even those who are using marijuana as medicine should not be allowed to drive while they are on the drug.
To view the report, visit http://bit.ly/1k0KCkA.