AUGUSTA — 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 majority of panel members agreed marijuana should be regulated like alcohol, including a blood-content test that sets limits for impairment, but a minority on the panel disagreed.

The group included state troopers, prosecutors, advocates for legalized marijuana and those representing Maine’s medical marijuana community.

The majority of the 20-person working group felt Maine should move to a standard of 5 nanograms of THC per deciliter of blood as a test for marijuana impairment, similar to limits in other 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 lawyers, argued that the science is inconclusive and suggested the state use a higher 7-nanogram standard and be required to find “other evidence” of impairment to convict a driver of operating under the influence.

Police currently have no sure-fire way to determine whether a driver is impaired by marijuana. If they have reasonable suspicion that a driver is impaired, they can ask for a drug recognition expert to administer a roadside test, which could include a series of physical tasks.

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The results could lead to a blood test by a medical professional, but the process can be time-consuming and may allow drugs to be reduced or eliminated in the person’s system prior to a blood test.

And while it is against the law to operate under the influence of almost any drug that would limit a driver’s ability to operate safely, only the presence of alcohol is regularly tested on roadsides with Breathalyzer devices.

The issue comes to light just 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 put the question of legal marijuana before Maine voters in 2016.

The legislative group, headed by the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, is the result of a resolve that sought more information for lawmakers before they set a standard for driving while impaired by marijuana. The Secretary of State’s Office oversees the state’s driving license laws and provides administrative hearings for those who lose their licenses for operating under the influence of intoxicating drugs or alcohol.

The question of how the state should treat those who use medical marijuana prescribed by doctors — as allowed under Maine law — was also a key issue in the conversation, according to the 29-page report.

“There wasn’t a consensus,” said David Boyer, the leader of the signature-gathering Committee to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

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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 for THC in their systems.

“Chronic users and patients probably wake up at that level,” Boyer said. He said his organization agrees that drivers impaired by any mind-altering substance should be kept off the road, but he said the nanogram standard for marijuana being used by other states is arbitrary and not based on solid science.

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 0.08 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 argued they believed the mind-altering effects of marijuana were such that even those who are using marijuana as medicine should not be allowed to drive while they are on the drug.

As of December, 12 states had zero-tolerance laws for THC, while only five set specific limits for THC in the bloodstream, according to the Governors Highway Association.

The working group made several other recommendations, including that Maine increase its number of drug recognition experts — law officers trained to observe drug-induced impairment. Maine currently has a dozen or so officers certified.

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The working group also recommended that Maine develop a public relations campaign to educate drivers and others to the dangers of driving while under the influence of pot.

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Report of the Working Group on Marijuana and driving in Maine



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