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Nevada bill boosts legal marijuana level in blood while driving

Associated Press

3/31/2003 06:30 pm

Police and prosecutors clashed Monday with advocates of a bill changing the Nevada law dictating the legal levels of marijuana in a motorist's blood stream.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, told the Assembly Judiciary Committee that changing the current levels are too low, and the higher ones are better measures of whether someone is impaired while driving.

But representatives of police agencies in Las Vegas and Reno and the state's district attorneys argued the change would make it virtually impossible to prosecute people for driving under the influence of the drug.

Giunchigliani's AB362 would increase the threshold for marijuana levels from 2 nanograms per milliliter of blood to 15 nanograms. The bill also removes provisions allowing urine tests for marijuana use.

The assemblywoman said the purpose of the bill is to get to the driver who is impaired and not just a"casual user"of marijuana.

"In going back to the original testimony (in committee), Giunchigliani said."There was no reasonable scientific basis for picking 2 and 5 (nanograms). And I think what 2 and 5 does is capture your casual user. It does not capture those who are driving impaired."

Giunchigliani said 15 nanograms is the level the state Personnel Department uses as a threshold for workplace safety.

Dr. Bill Anderson, chief toxicologist in the forensic science division of the Washoe County Sheriff's office, said that increasing the threshold to 15 nanograms is excessive.

Anderson said that of 319 positive tests conducted by his lab over the past year for THC, marijuana's active drug, 60 percent had between 2 and 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter or blood. Just 6 of the 319 cases had THC levels at 20 or above, the level initially suggested in the bill.

Anderson said that once marijuana is consumed, the level of THC spikes sharply in the blood, but it also decreases very rapidly, too.

He said that because of the time frame for stopping motorists and transporting them to a medical facility for a blood test, people could have 15 nanograms of THC in their blood when pulled over, but have just 5 nanograms when the test is conducted.

James Jackson, a lobbyist for Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said his organization supports the measure because it's an effort to focus more directly on actual impairment.

"It connects the presence of (marijuana residue) with being under the influence rather than going the other way where all you have to do is show it's present and therefore you're guilty of an offense of driving while impaired,"Jackson said.

No scientist who testified before the committee could provide a numerical threshold at which people become impaired from marijuana.

Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, assigned the measure to a subcommittee for further consideration.