Cal NORML Opposes Bill to Suspend Licenses of Underage Drivers

February 25, 2018 - Cal NORML is opposing a bill, SB 1273 by Sen. Jerry Hill (San Mateo), that would authorize police to test any drivers under 21 for marijuana and automatically suspend their licenses for one year if any detectible amount of THC is found in their systems.

Cal NORML denounced the proposal as a misuse of enforcement resources. “SB 1273 will do nothing to make the roads safer or reduce youth drug abuse,” remarked Cal NORML Director Dale Gieringer. “What it will do is encourage police to indiscriminately drug test young people for no good reason and take their licenses without any evidence of impairment or dangerous driving.”

Driving studies have repeatedly found that the presence of THC isn’t a useful indicator of driving safety or fitness. A recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Marijuana-Impaired Driving,” concluded that unlike alcohol, marijuana levels in blood are not well correlated to driving performance.

SB 1273 mirrors existing state law prohibiting drivers under 21 from having any detectible alcohol in their systems. However, unlike tests for alcohol, tests for THC can register positive days after impairing effects have faded. Moreover, accident studies consistently show that drunken driving is substantially more dangerous than marijuana on the road.

SB 1273 would authorize the use of unproven, new chemical testing technologies for marijuana, including oral swab, saliva, and skin patch tests, whose accuracy and reliability have never been established in controlled scientific studies. “Bodily fluid testing for marijuana is an obsolescent, flawed technology,” says Gieringer. “California should be looking at new, behavior-based tests that measure actual performance.”

Contrary to the fears of critics, there is no evidence that legalization is causing an epidemic of pot-impaired kids on the road. DUI arrests have been declining to new lows in California, while youth cannabis use and highway accident rates have been stable in legalized states. Cal NORML accordingly sees no need for the crackdown on youthful drivers proposed in SB 1273.

A separate provision of SB 1273 not opposed by Cal NORML would rewrite the state’s DUID laws to keep separate data on different types of drugs. Currently, all drugs except alcohol are lumped into one reporting category, making it impossible to tell how many DUID arrests in California specifically involve marijuana, opiates or other drugs.