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Presence Of THC Metabolite Alone Not Evidence 
Of Driver Impairment, Michigan Court Says

 

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Things The Cops Look For During Traffic Duty’s & Road Side Stops,  


Traverse City, MI: The presence of cannabis’ primary metabolite, THC-COOH,
 is insufficient evidence of impairment to warrant a conviction under the
 state’s "zero tolerance" per se drugged driving law, according to a recent
 ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals. The decision upholds a trial court
 ruling that found the "prosecution must prove that the presence of a
 controlled substance in a defendant’s body is proximate cause of an
 accident resulting in death or serious injury" in order for the defendant 
 to be guilty of violating the state’s two-year-old drugged driving statute.

Michigan is one of ten states that have enacted so-called "zero tolerance" drugged
driving laws. Under Michigan’s law, it is a criminal offense for an individual to
operate a motor vehicle with any detectable level of a Schedule I substance present
in his or her bodily fluids. (In six states – Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana,
Nevada, and Utah – individuals may be criminally prosecuted if they operate a
vehicle with any level of a Schedule I drug or drug metabolite in their system.
Three additional states – Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – have enacted per se
drugged driving standards, prohibiting individuals from operating a motor vehicle if
they have levels of Schedule I drugs present in their body above a specific
threshold.)

In the case before the court, the defendant tested positive for the presence of the
THC metabolite THC-COOH (a non-psychoactive compound produced during the body’s
biological process of converting THC into a water soluble form), but maintained that
she was unimpaired at the time of her accident. The prosecution argued that it was
not required under Michigan’s "zero tolerance" drugged driving law to establish that
the defendant’s impairment caused the accident, only that she had an illegal
substance present in her body. The appellate court upheld the trail court’s ruling,
affirming that marijuana’s metabolite is neither psychoactive nor classified as an
illegal substance, and that the prosecution had failed to prove a causal
relationship between the presence of a controlled substance in the defendant’s body
and the accident.

Michigan’s Supreme Court had previously held that the legislature did not "intend to
impose strict liability on an individual" involved in a driving-related accident,
the appellate court determined. Rather, the legislature’s intent is to criminally
punish only individuals whose impaired driving causes another person’s injury.

"The defendant’s purposeful operation of [a] vehicle while under the influence must
have been a substantial cause of the victim’s death," the court of appeals
determined. It further found that the "legislature did not intend to include [the
cannabis metabolite] as a Schedule I controlled substance because it has no
pharmacological effect on the human body … and its levels in the blood correlates
poorly, if at all, to an individual’s level of THC-related impairment."

As a result, the appellate court ruled, "Imposing a penalty on a driver when the …
accident would have occurred regardless of that intoxication would … fail to serve
the purpose of the statute."

Prosecutors have not announced whether they intend to appeal the court’s decision to
the Michigan Supreme Court.