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DUI rules cause headaches for medical marijuana patients

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(The Center Square) — The federal prohibition on all forms of marijuana causes headaches in the General Assembly.

The nuances of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, however, has meant a balancing act for legislators, police agencies, and patients.

During a Monday meeting of the House Transportation Committee, a bill proposed by Rep. Christopher Rabb, D-Philadelphia, was at the center of the state/federal split on marijuana.

House Bill 983 would remove DUI penalties to clarify that medical users could legally drive in Pennsylvania.

“Over 30 states allow for some form of cannabis use, and many have updated their driving under the influence (DUI) laws to correspond with this,” Rabb wrote in a legislative memo. “Unfortunately, Pennsylvania remains a state with a zero-tolerance policy on this matter, needlessly imperiling hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania drivers who are also medical cannabis patients.”

Medical patients who are stopped by police and found to have any marijuana in their system would face a DUI charge, though marijuana can stay in a person’s system for weeks.

“If they were impaired — regardless of substance — they should be charged,” Rabb said. “There should be no exceptions. Impairment is impairment. But if they are not, you deserve to be treated like a law abiding driver.”

The committee approved an amendment requested by PennDOT and the Pennsylvania State Police to clarify that impaired driving can still be punished, and voted 15-10 to advance the bill, but Republicans were concerned.

“Nobody is just randomly being pulled off the road,” Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said. “Generally, something has occurred that a subsequent test is now being done … we’re creating more of a problem and maybe ought to spend our efforts trying to get the federal government to make a standardization and lower that from a Schedule I drug.”

Rep. James Struzzi, R-Indiana, noted the benefits of medical marijuana, but was against the bill.

“This does need to occur at some point,” he said. “There really is no adequate way to test … I’m going to continue to be a ‘no’ until we can properly make sure that the officers in the field have the tools that they need to make sure someone didn’t just use it before getting into a vehicle.”

The DUI issue has been a stumbling block for recreational legalization among Republicans, part of other problems that have cropped up in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Access to commercial banking has been a long standing problem that may make marijuana businesses more likely to be targeted by criminals and concerns about Second Amendment conflicts have complicated state-led efforts.

Other states that have legalized marijuana recreationally have also dealt with other problems. Despite Oregon’s recreational program, Portland has struggled to enforce rules against public drug use. In New York City, though recreational use is allowed, most marijuana businesses are illegal and the state is relaxing rules to let medical shops also sell for recreational use.

Though recreational marijuana has been legalized in 24 states and the District of Columbia, the federal prohibition on it has caused problems big and small.

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