FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The Indiana General Assembly has passed a bill that provides a defense for drivers involved in vehicle crashes who test positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Under the current Indiana law, if a driver is in a crash with bodily injuries, police will request a blood test. If the driver tests positive for THC, he or she could face Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) charges, even if the THC did not cause them to be impaired.
However, with Senate Bill 201, if a driver is found to have THC in his or her system after a crash and they didn’t cause the crash or show impairment, they can’t be charged with OWI.
“Marijuana is different from other drugs that we have, in the fact that most of those drugs’ cap life is very short. However with marijuana, it’s stored in the fat it could be in the system for up to 30-days,” said Senator R. Michael Young (R-35th District). “Say if they tried some munchables, or smoked a marijuana cigarette, come back home and 30-days later they are involved in an accident where injuries have resulted, they could have been sitting at a street corner doing everything right, and someone not paying attention comes behind them and hit their car. Either that person, or the driver’s passenger is injured, and it could be small as a broken finger, but because there were injuries, the officer under the law has to do a blood test. Because the THC is in the fat, they are now a felon and didn’t do antyhing wrong.”
Sen. Young is the chairman of the Corrections and Criminal law Committee and author of SB 201. The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC) has been extremely vocal against the legalization of marijuana, however they support this measure.
“[Marijuana] is such a different drug in the way it can be stored in people’s fat and release later,” said Chris Daniels, Indiana’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor. “It is possible to see somebody that would have small traces of THC, active or inactive in their system days after smoking and they aren’t necessarily impaired at the time. But if they are involved in that crash they can be charged. \[SB 201] provides a defense for those who aren’t driving impaired.”
Daniels told WANE 15’s Briana Brownlee that this bill shouldn’t be confused as a “marijuana friendly bill”, but as a bill that is adjusting to science of THC.
“We are still in that odd gray area, several states have legalized it, but it still remains a crime under federal law, it’s still a schedule one substance,” Daniels explained. “When you get the concentrate and high volumes of THC it’s a powerful drug, so we know it has an impairing effects, but we also know THC works differently than any other drug.”
Indiana is in a unique spot compared to other states. Instead of focusing on legalizing marijuana, the Hoosier state is tackling the driving aspect. Noticing the writings on the walls, from surrounding states such as Michigan and Illinois legalizing marijuana, Sen. Young said he felt it was time to clarify the law, since so many Indiana residents partake in marijuana usages in states that have legalized it.
Daniels added that the state receives blood test through different avenues. The first one is probable cause, which is 99% of the cases, however the other way is statute 937, which is what SB 201 addresses.
Statute 937 states that if someone is severely injured or killed, every driver must be offered the chemical tested, whether a person is impaired or caused the crash.
Daniels added it’s been frustrating and difficult trying to find out if someone is truly impaired with marijuana. He said there is so much data and science on alcohol, but that’s not the case for marijuana.
“No one should be driving at .08, that is subtle science we know everyone’s body starts to change and acts differently around .05, and at the time you are at .08 nobody should be driving no one is safe to drive,” said Daniels. “We don’t have that with marijuana, it effects everyone differently that is why we always opposed a nanogram cutoff type of limits, because we still don’t know. Right now, every single good study says ‘don’t set a nanogram number because you are picking a number out of a hat’.”
Senate Bill 201 is now on it’s way to the Governor’s Office, awaiting Governor Eric Holcomb’s signature.