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Washington State Lawmakers Downgrade Proposed Drug Possession Penalties Ahead Of House Floor Vote

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After the Senate in Washington State last week passed a bill to reimpose criminal penalties for simple drug possession—legislation that was amended in the chamber after first being introduced as a decriminalization proposal—a House panel on Wednesday again revised it to slightly downgrade the proposed penalty to a simple misdemeanor.

The amended bill, which the House Appropriations Committee voted 18–14 to advance, is expected to be debated, along with further amendments, on the House floor later this week. If passed by the full chamber, it would need to be approved by the Senate again before the legislative session ends on Sunday.

“I think it’s evident, after discussion on the amendments, that the direction we want to take now is not the same direction that we have had in the past, that we want to treat rather than incarcerate,” Rep. Eileen Cody (D), who brought the misdemeanor amendment, said at Wednesday’s committee hearing. “The bill that is now before us adds a lot of meat to the bone on treatment and how we are going to move forward as a state. I hope that we can be a model that will see this happen across the country.”

The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, urged lawmakers on Tuesday not to recriminalize drugs at all after the Blake decision, saying the legislature “has a unique opportunity to reject criminal penalties for non-commercial drug possession.”


Lawmakers from both parties have said it’s crucial to send a bill to the governor’s desk to replace Washington’s now-invalidated felony law against drug possession, which the state Supreme Court struck down in a narrow, divided ruling in February. The unexpected decision in the case, State v. Blake, immediately halted arrests and prosecutions for drug possession and has since freed dozens of people incarcerated on charges for mere possession.

In the aftermath of the Blake ruling, lawmakers introduced several bills to replace the old law, ranging from proposals that would effectively reestablish past felony penalties to alternatives that would end penalties for drug possession entirely, instead routing people to assessment and treatment services. A bill that reached the Senate floor last week, SB 5476, originally would have formally decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, but a striking amendment adopted during floor debate instead imposed a gross misdemeanor charge, which can carry penalties of up to a year in jail and a maximum $5,000 fine.

On Wednesday, the House committee approved another striking amendment to the bill. The change, introduced by Rep. Cody, replaced the gross misdemeanor with a simple misdemeanor, which carries up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Some lawmakers have pointed out that a gross misdemeanor could actually lead to longer sentences in some cases than the original felony-level possession charge given how state sentencing guidelines are structured.

Like the Senate-passed bill, the House-amended legislation still requires that law enforcement divert an individual caught with controlled substances to behavioral health services for their first two violations. Subsequent violations could also be diverted subject to a prosecutor’s approval.

The amendment also expands statewide treatment and recovery services, including access to housing, recovery coaching and job education, among other services. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they support focusing more on treatment than incarceration to address substance use disorder, although Republicans and moderate Democrats have stressed the need for criminal charges as a tool for enforcement.

Another change in the amendment has criminal penalties set to expire in mid-2023, with possession dropping to a Class 2 civil infraction, which carries a $125 fine and no possibility of jail time, unless lawmakers pass separate drug legislation by that point. People could avoid the fee if they completed a behavioral health assessment within 30 days, and fees from the civil infractions would go to fund administrative costs related to the Blake decision.

Some Republicans at the panel hearing worried that the bill’s diversion provisions might create promises that some parts of the state couldn’t keep. They said it’s unclear whether Democrats’ pledges to fund expanded services would be sufficient to staff the bill’s sweeping treatment and recovery programs.

Rep. Joe Schick (R) noted that the bill prescribes that diversion “will be done to the availability of the money that we’ve put in there.”

“I question whether or not that has been totally worked through,” Schick said. “For those areas that have the counseling, great…but we don’t have that everywhere, and I am really concerned about that.”

The panel adopted a handful of other amendments during the hearing, primarily meant to clarify certain parts of the proposal—for example that diversion opportunities would exist for both adults and minors—and fix minor drafting errors. Most of the changes passed unopposed on voice votes.

Lawmakers defeated two striking amendments that would have effectively replaced Washington’s old drug felony law with a similar version, updating it with only a few words to address the state Supreme Court ruling. Democrats said those proposals would be a step backward.

“I think we can all agree that our current policy of a felony and incarcerating individuals is a failed policy. We have lost the war on drugs,” said Cody. “To try and continue the same thing is just inexplicable.”

Another amendment was offered but then withdrawn by Rep. Nicole Macri (D). That change would have further encouraged law enforcement to divert people to health services before arresting or charging them, but Macri said at the hearing that she’s working to revise the amendment after noticing “some technical inconsistencies” in the current legislation. She expects the amendment to be ready for consideration on the House floor.

Macri voted for the amended bill Wednesday, saying she disagreed with criminal charges for simple drug possession but calling SB 5476 a way to move the conversation forward. “I believe strongly that we don’t need to hurt people to help them,” she said. “And I do think this bill, with the striker and the amendments that have been accepted today, is a much stronger bill than was sent to us by the Senate.”

Macri and other Democrats, however, have at the same time expressed regret that the bill includes any criminal penalties whatsoever for simple drug possession, which they say should be treated as a health issue.

“The war on drugs is an abject failure, and interaction with law enforcement and the court system does not assist people with substance use disorders,” Macri said, adding that she remains “concerned particularly about the racial, disability and income disparities that we see and who is charged with drug possession in our state.”

“A simple possession charge, which could come with up to 90 days in jail and up to $1,000 fine, is something that is unnecessary and harmful to some of the most vulnerable people in this state,” she said.

Rep. Roger Goodman (D), a longtime drug reform proponent who has taken a lead role in House negotiations with the Senate on how to respond to the Blake decision, told Marijuana Moment in an interview on Monday that more changes to the bill will be proposed in coming days. “Beyond the Cody striker, there will be further amendments on the [House] floor,” he said.

Goodman added that while he’d like to see criminal penalties removed completely for drug possession, he and other more progressive lawmakers are working to identify proposals that the Senate, which has been wary of decriminalization, is willing to accept.

“This comes down to the raw political calculation of counting votes,” he said. “What we might prefer in the House might not get enough votes in the Senate, and that has to be part of our calculation.”

While Goodman said he’s “not happy” with the current proposal to reestablish criminal penalties, he’s “not dissatisfied” with the emerging compromise, either.

“The court has given us—you can look at it either as a gift or a grenade,” he said of the Blake decision. “We’re trying to transform it into something that is really going to help people out there.”

As Goodman describes the current House proposal, it will divert people early in the criminal justice process—often before arrest or formal charges are filed—and instead connect them with specialists who would help them navigate an expanded suite of assessment and treatment programs and other support services. “In reality there will be very, very few convictions, because people who need help will get it,” he said.

By mid-2023, lawmakers would also be forced to act on recommendations from a new state workgroup that would study drug policy with an eye toward decriminalization and behavioral health. If the legislature were to fail to act by the deadline, simple possession would automatically be downgraded to a civil infraction.

“There’s going to be a sunset on this,” Goodman said. “It’ll expire in the middle of 2023, and at that point we will have analyzed what the needs are, where the gaps are [and] how this new regime is functioning. And if we can demonstrate, which I believe we will, that the therapeutic approach is more effective than the punitive approach, then we will proceed further, and may even reduce the penalty below a misdemeanor or even to something like what they’ve done in Oregon, where there’s not even the possibility of a criminal conviction.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Oregon voters last year passed an initiative that replaced criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine or a requirement to complete a health assessment within 45 days. The measure also drastically expanded health services through funding from the state’s cannabis tax revenue.

Many favor taking a similar approach in Washington. A bill introduced in February, just weeks before the Blake decision came down, would have eliminated penalties for drug possession completely and drastically expanded substance use disorder outreach, treatment and recovery. That bill, HB 1499, passed one House committee, chaired by Rep. Goodman, but failed to advance further before a midterm cutoff deadline.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Ferguson released a statement in favor of broader decriminalization. “This is Washington’s moment to overhaul a broken system and end the failed war on drugs,” he said. “Criminalizing simple drug possession exacerbates racial disparities. Moreover, it continues our failed criminal justice response to a public health challenge. Public health challenges require public health solutions — including making significant new investments in treatment that expand our current system.”

Gov. Jay Inslee (D), for his part, has been quiet on the various proposals in the wake of Blake. Asked last week about the Senate floor vote, a spokesman told Marijuana Moment that usually “we do not explicitly say what we prefer or would sign until such legislation actually makes it to the governor’s desk in final form for review.”

Goodman, along with nine cosponsors, has introduced legislation to remove criminal penalties for low-level drug possession and replace them with a civil fine.

“What comes out of the legislature this year is certainly not as far as I’d like to go as far as reducing the punishment for what is a health issue,” he told Marijuana Moment, “and that’s why I introduced a bill that put only a civil infraction in place.”

HB 1578, which would expand treatment and recovery services and reclassify low-level possession as a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $125 and no possibility of jail time, was introduced just last Thursday. Goodman called it an “insurance measure,” acknowledging that at this point in the process, “the Senate bill is the vehicle” that lawmakers will ultimately send to the governor.

“There’s no time for the Senate to do anything but either concur or refuse to concur with what the House passed,” he said, “so we are having to confer closely with the Senate to see what they are willing to pass.”

There’s little appetite among lawmakers for leaving the situation as-is, with no state law against drug possession on the books. “I do believe it would not be responsible to leave this vacuum in the law right now because of the public’s concern about young people and because of concern about [use in] public spaces,” Goodman said.

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court denied a motion for reconsideration of Blake, meaning the ball is now squarely in the legislature’s court.

“What makes me less uncomfortable with this interim measure is that it is an interim measure, and we’re not putting something in place permanently,” Goodman told Marijuana Moment. Tens of millions of dollars to fund expanded behavioral health services are also set to be included in the legislature’s final budget bill, Goodman said, which is expected to be unveiled later this week.

“We are structuring the intervention to be as far upstream as possible so that law enforcement will be making referrals to assessment and treatment and other services even before there are arrests or charges or convictions,” he said, making for “very little incarceration and very few convictions.”

Overall, he said, the proposals are about creating “as aggressive a therapeutic response as you can create”—constrained by what can muster a passing vote.

Republican lawmakers said in a media briefing Wednesday morning that they’re willing to support SB 5476 as the Senate passed it, with criminal charges intact but with opportunities for diversion to behavioral health services.

“There’s a group out there that wants that to be fully legal and no restrictions, and what we know is that gives us no real path to treatment,” said Senate Minority Leader John Braun (R). “We have to create a system that gets after treatment, and we have some concerns even with the piece that passed off the Senate floor, because you no longer have the Class C felony charge.”

“When you talk about diversion, for some folks that works,” Braun added. “For a lot of folks, it doesn’t work. You have to have some leverage to get folks in and committed to treatment and their misdemeanor gives you 90 days—sometimes you can double that 180 days to keep folks in treatment for underneath—but that’s not enough.”

Rep. Andrew Barkis (R) said that “the important component out of this particular piece of legislation is the roadmap to treatment.” Rather than downgrade criminal penalties, he said, lawmakers should focus on treatment, from detox programs to recovery housing. “That is where our resources should be,” he said.

Washington voters, for their part, are generally supportive of decriminalization, according to a statewide poll released by advocates earlier this month. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said lawmakers should use the Blake decision to “reconsider and replace past drug possession laws with more effective addiction and treatment alternatives,” while only 35 percent favored making a technical change to return to the past system.

Nearly three in four voters (73 percent) said the state’s approach to problematic drug use has been a failure. Just nine percent called it a success, while 18 percent were unsure.

Some reform advocates have floated the possibility of decriminalizing drugs in Washington through a ballot initiative similar to the one passed in Oregon. HB 1499, the decriminalization measure introduced earlier this session, was itself an offshoot of an effort by Treatment First Washington to put an initiative on last year’s ballot. That campaign, however, was scuttled after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted signature-gathering.

Outside the Pacific Northwest, lawmakers in both Maine and Vermont have recently unveiled legislation to decriminalize small amounts of controlled substances. Last month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine. And in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) recently said he’s “open-minded” on decriminalizing all drugs.

In California, meanwhile, a bill that would legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics last week passed its second Senate committee.

“The war on drugs has been an abject failure because it is based on the false belief, the false notion, that criminalizing people, arresting them, incarcerating them for possessing, for using drugs, will somehow deter use and improve public safety,” sponsor Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told colleagues before the vote. “It has done neither.”

“Instead we have spent trillions in the last half century on the war on drugs, more people are using drugs now, there’s more addiction, there are more overdoses—I’m talking about drugs generally, not psychedelics,” he said. “We have busted taxpayer dollars, and we need to move towards a more health-based approach.”

New House Bills Would Make Cannabis Businesses Eligible For Federal Small-Business Aid

Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

Marijuana Had ‘Unprecedented’ Success In State Legislatures In 2021, NORML Report Shows

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Lawmakers across the U.S. proved again in 2021 that marijuana reform will continue to advance on the state level despite the recalcitrance of Congress to end federal prohibition.

As more eyes turn to 2022 legislative sessions, a report from NORML that was released on Monday details advocates’ progress on the cannabis front this year in more than 25 states, where over 50 pieces of marijuana reform legislation were enacted.

Most notably, legislatures and governors in five states enacted recreational legalization—a notable trend given that the reform has historically been decided by voters as ballot initiatives. But 2021 has also seen more modest policy changes related to medical cannabis, decriminalization and social equity.

“State lawmakers took unprecedented steps this year to repeal marijuana prohibition laws and to provide relief to those millions of Americans who have suffered as a result of them,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a press release.

Of course, one of the primary objectives of reform advocates is to comprehensively end prohibition. To that end, the legislatures of Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Virginia each legalized marijuana for adult use this year. (New Jersey’s action came months after voters approved a referendum on the issue during last November’s election.)

In Rhode Island, the Senate approved a marijuana legalization bill in June. While legislative leaders discussed holding a special session to send a final measure to the governor’s desk, it now appears more likely that the issue will be taken up again in 2022.

North Dakota’s House also passed a recreational legalization bill, but it was later rejected in the Senate.

Louisiana lawmakers, meanwhile, passed legislation this year that decriminalizes possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis.

With respect to expungements for prior marijuana convictions, reform measures meant to help provide people with relief were approved in Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico and Virginia, NORML reported.

As an example, the governor of Colorado signed a bill in May to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state—and he also directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon.

Separately, Alabama’s governor signed legislation that same month to legalize medical cannabis in the state.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

At least 15 states took steps to expand existing medical marijuana programs. They range from California, where hospitals will now be required to permit medical cannabis use by certain patients, to Texas, where patients can now qualify for low-THC marijuana products if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or cancer.

As state markets have continued to evolve, some lawmakers have turned their attention to enhancing social equity in the industry. And to that end, five state legislatures advanced reform this year.

For example, Illinois passed a bill to create additional marijuana licensing lotteries to expand business opportunities. And in Michigan, the governor signed a bill this month that makes it so people with cannabis-related felony or misdemeanor convictions on their record are no longer disqualified from obtaining a medical cannabis business license.

NORML also documented other reform bills related to the business industry, driving/DUI policies, juvenile justice and more. One miscellaneous measure that was enacted in California, for example, makes it so non-intoxicating cannabinoids, including CBD, can be sold as dietary supplements and as ingredients in food and beverages.

“As we approach the 2022 legislative session and the elections next November, it is important for lawmakers of all political persuasions to recognize that advocating for marijuana policy reforms is a political opportunity, not a political liability,” NORML’s Armentano said. “These policies are popular among voters, regardless of political party.”

Activists and lawmakers have made clear that the cannabis reform momentum will continue through the new year.

On Monday, for instance, a Kentucky lawmaker announced that she is pre-filing bills to legalize possession, limited sales and home cultivation of marijuana in the state for the 2022 session.

In the South Dakota legislature, a cannabis reform bill has been formally recommended by a leadership panel for the upcoming session. And activists will also continue collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative—though they hope to work with lawmakers to advance reform legislatively ahead of next year’s election.

The Indiana Democratic party is mounting a push for marijuana legalization and calling on state lawmakers to enact the reform in 2022.

Arkansas activists are also hoping to place marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Last month, Oklahoma activists filed a pair of 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize adult-use marijuana and remodel the state’s existing medical cannabis program.

In Nebraska, advocates unveiled the language of a pair of initiatives to legalize medical marijuana in the state last month.

This summer, New Hampshire lawmakers discussed a new strategy to legalize marijuana in the state that involves putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2022.

Wyoming activists, meanwhile, are working to collect signatures for 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis possession.

A Maryland House working group has been tasked with studying marijuana and preparing a legalization referendum that the speaker wants to put on next year’s ballot.

Just months ago, Ohio activists were cleared to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state. And the campaign says it expects to have enough valid signatures by the end of this month.

Idaho advocates are also pursuing a 2022 cannabis legalization ballot initiative as well as a separate proposal focused on medical marijuana.

Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills For 2022 Session

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills For 2022 Session

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A Kentucky lawmaker announced on Monday that she is pre-filing bills to legalize possession, limited sales and home cultivation of marijuana in the state for the 2022 session, with endorsements from several leading advocacy groups.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) is taking a dual-track approach to the reform, with one bill to have the legislature adopt the policy as a statutory measure and another to enact legalization through a constitutional amendment that would go before voters.

Generally speaking, the measures would accomplish the same central objective of ending prohibition, but Kulkarni said they’re meant to complement each other by giving lawmakers an opportunity to pass legalization in the short-term while allowing voters to constitutionally enact the reform as a “more permanent fix that gives cannabis use the constitutional protection it deserves.”

“I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law,” the sponsor said in a press release.

“First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement,” she said. “Second, thousands of citizens, from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD, should have the right to use something that gives them the mental and physical relief they deserve without relying on stronger, potentially addictive medicine. Third, cannabis decriminalization would give the state a much-needed source of reliable revenue without raising current taxes a single cent.”

Kulkarni further noted that polls “have repeatedly shown a majority of Kentuckians backs decriminalization and allowing cannabis to be used responsibly by adults.”

Under one of the lawmaker’s pre-filed bills, a constitutional amendment would be placed on the ballot if three-fifths of the House and Senate approve it during next year’s legislative session. If passed by voters, adults 21 and older would be able to possess, purchase and sell up to one ounce of cannabis. They could also grow up to five plants for personal use.

The measure would task the General Assembly with coming up with regulations on matters such as licensing and taxes.

The separate statutory proposal would similarly remove criminal penalties for low-level possession, cultivation and sale of cannabis. It would also amend state statute so that marijuana paraphernalia would no longer be criminalized and create a pathway for people to have their cannabis convictions expunged.

Neither measure creates a regulatory structure for commercial marijuana sales, something that would be subject to separate legislation.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

“Because of outdated and ill-enforced laws, thousands of Kentuckians have lost time and opportunities due to criminal convictions, and thousands more have suffered needlessly because Kentucky blocks cannabis’ medicinal use,” ACLU of Kentucky said. “It is past time for the commonwealth to join the 36 other states that have removed most if not all of these barriers, which is why we are proud to add our name to those supporting Rep. Nima Kulkarni’s legislation.”

While Kentucky is well-known for its hemp industry, broader reform has consistently stalled.

The Republican sponsor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky said last month that he made multiple revisions to the legislation to scale it back and add restrictions to garner more support from colleagues—and he said he’s confident it would pass if legislative leaders had the “courage” to simply allow a vote on it.

Rep. Jason Nemes (R) filed a medical legalization bill that soundly passed the House last year but later died in the Senate without a vote amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation in January for the 2021 session but it did not advance this year. Now he’s working to build support for a new version for 2022.

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) is in favor of medical marijuana legalization and called on lawmakers to pass the reform during a State of the Commonwealth address in January.

Passing an adult-use marijuana legalization bill would presumably be a much larger challenge in the conservative legislature, but the proposal has the backing of several prominent groups.

Mike Conway, state director for Americans for Prosperity-Kentucky, said the pre-filed bills “would move Kentucky away from the harmful policies that have criminalized the use and possession of marijuana.”

“Criminal enforcement of marijuana possession has unnecessarily brought thousands of Kentuckians into the criminal justice system while diverting law enforcement resources away from public safety priorities such as violent crime reduction,” he said.

Matthew Bratcher, executive director for Kentucky NORML, said the group “commends Representative Kulkarni in her efforts to reform the cannabis possession laws in our commonwealth, and we encourage other legislators from both sides of the aisle to join her in making a difference in the lives of many of Kentuckians.”

“We’re at the precipice of the opening of the cannabis industry here in Kentucky,” C.J. Carter, Kentucky state director for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, said. “This is indeed a dangerous moment in time for Black and Brown people. There’s a new multi-billion dollar industry that will soon open on both the Federal and State level while simultaneously, people who look like me remain criminalized behind bars and are once again being left out of the conversation.”

“We now have the opportunity to write a different narrative in Kentucky that would benefit us first and foremost,” he said. “The State of Kentucky and its history as it relates to cannabis owes a tremendous debt to the Black Community and that starts with this legislation that is being introduced by Rep. Kulkarni.”

Read the text of the pre-filed Kentucky marijuana legalization bills below: 

Click to access kentucky-cannabis-bills.pdf

Florida Lawmaker Files Bill To Decriminalize All Currently Illicit Drugs

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CDC Gives Workplace Marijuana Policy Advice To Businesses That Employ Drivers

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is giving advice to businesses on how to develop marijuana policies that respect state legalization laws but mitigate the risk of impaired driving.

In a post published last week by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the agency said that there are inherent risks to driving while under the influence of THC, but the issue is nuanced due to distinct state policies and the fact that there’s currently no tool in widespread use to detect active impairment from cannabis.

To that end, it laid out “best practices” for employers that recognize that “marijuana’s specific contribution to crash risk is unclear because it can be detected in body fluids for days or even weeks after use.”

Employers should create cannabis policies that account “for current laws in each state where your company operates,” CDC said, adding that a “zero-tolerance policy for marijuana may not be possible, depending on your state’s laws.”

For example, New York’s Department of Labor recently updated its drug testing policies to widely block employers from screening for THC since marijuana was legalized in the state. It does carve out certain exceptions, however, including for workers contracted by the federal Department of Transportation.

CDC did argue that an ideal policy should at minimum prohibit workers from using cannabis on the job or showing up to work impaired.

It also recommended partnering with an attorney who can “review your policy and provide feedback.”

If drug testing is part of a business’s marijuana policy, employers should make sure that the conditions under which a worker might be tested are clear, that a trained medical professional is available to accurately interpret THC testing results and that drivers are adequately informed about the risks of consuming CBD products that might be mislabeled and contain excess THC levels that could be detectable in a drug test, CDC said.

Further, the agency recommends that employers provide “access to support for employees with drug problems, either through in-house programs or referrals to local resources” and also stay up-to-date on “the relevant state marijuana laws and any improved methods for determining impairment.”

“Despite some unanswered questions about marijuana’s role in crash risk, workers under the influence of marijuana do not have the skills needed to drive safely,” the post concludes. “Because marijuana use is on the rise for adults in the U.S., this substance needs to be addressed by all workplace motor vehicle safety programs.”

Experts and advocates have emphasized that evidence isn’t clear on the relationship between THC concentrations in blood and impairment.

A study published in 2019, for example, concluded that those who drive at the legal THC limit—which is typically between two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood—were not statistically more likely to be involved in an accident compared to people who haven’t used marijuana.

Separately, the Congressional Research Service in 2019 determined that while “marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance… studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved in a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage.”

At the state level, an attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last week, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.

Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor Wants To Process As Many Marijuana Pardons As Possible Before Leaving Office

Image courtesy of blinkend from Pixabay.

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