Last Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee voted 13-0 to advance legislation that would shield Pennsylvania's more than 700,000 medicinal marijuana patients from being wrongfully convicted of DUI.
The legislation would treat medicinal cannabis the same as any other drug with a prescription. To be charged with DUI, a person would need to demonstrate that their impairment makes it impossible for them to drive safely.
It will now be brought up for discussion in the Senate.
According to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington County, Pennsylvania's zero-tolerance DUI law currently makes it possible for medical cannabis patients to be detained, charged and found guilty of using their medication while operating a motor vehicle, even if they are not impaired. She referred to it as the state's medicinal cannabis patients' most pressing problem.
At a hearing in September, Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Patrick Nightingale warned the committee that patients who use medicinal cannabis run the possibility of losing their licenses or potentially going to jail.
According to Bartolotta, the medical marijuana law that was approved in 2016 provides protections for workers, those with professional licenses, and people involved in custody disputes, but it did not address the problem that has resulted in erroneous DUI convictions.
Following a one-vehicle incident last year, Deneke Weber of Harrisburg was among those who were charged with a first-time DUI violation after showing an officer her medicinal marijuana ID card.
The 35-year-old mother of six who spoke with PennLive about her condition said that she was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the collision, which she attributed to malfunctioning tires that led the vehicle to swerve into a railing.
Bartolotta added that 33 states, including those where cannabis is illegal, must provide proof of genuine impairment. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that THC is one of the narcotics for which there is a zero-tolerance policy in 12 states, including Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania State Police testified at the September hearing that they did not believe the proposed change in the law would have a negative effect on highway safety, especially since the legislation prohibits medical cannabis patients from using their legal use of the drug as a defense for driving while intoxicated in a DUI case.
According to a committee worker, if it becomes law, the bill won't be applied retrospectively to medicinal marijuana users who were found guilty of DUI even if they weren't intoxicated.
Medical Marijuana in PA
Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program is a Department of Health's division that oversees medicinal marijuana regulation in Pennsylvania.
Patients who participate in the program can obtain a certification from a qualified physician that enables them to apply for a Patient ID Card (medical marijuana card). Patients in the state have secure access to cannabis-based medications because of the medical card.
The program also registers medicinal marijuana businesses that are active in the state. The major objective is to ensure patient care and safety while facilitating access to medicinal marijuana for patients who qualify to use safe and efficient forms of cannabis.