Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are considering legislation that would aim to protect medical cannabis patients in the state from DUI penalties.
On Tuesday, a pair of state House representatives, Democrat Chris Rabb and Republican Todd Polinchock, announced that they had introduced a bill that would “ensure the rights of the more than 500,000 medical cannabis patients in Pennsylvania, protecting them from DUI penalties.”
“I believe that people with a medical need for cannabis, who have acted courageously to seek help for their medical condition and have been granted use of medical cannabis, should be protected from DUI penalties for their legal medical cannabis use,” said Rabb, who represents a district in Philadelphia. “I know I’m not the only lawmaker in the General Assembly who has been contacted by constituents concerned that their responsible use of medical cannabis may expose them to targeting by law enforcement when they drive.”
In a press release, Rabb noted that THC often remains in an individual’s system for weeks after use, potentially complicating the enforcement of impaired driving laws when a legal cannabis consumer is behind the wheel.
“A medical cannabis user can take a miniscule amount of medicine for their ailment and weeks later, with traces of cannabis still in their system, be subject to arrest on a DUI charge if pulled over—not because they’ve driven impaired, but because our state laws haven’t caught up with the science,” Rabb said.
“And, if you think you don’t know someone who falls into this category—a person who has been prescribed medical cannabis and who drives and is fearful of the potential DUI charge they could face—you’re wrong. I am a card-carrying medical cannabis patient, and I drive regularly, including in and around Philadelphia and to Harrisburg conducting the people’s business.”
The legislation would “not extend to any illegal cannabis use,” and would only apply to “approved patients with a noncommercial driver’s license who use medicinal cannabis legally and are not impaired.”
Polinchock said it would simply place “medical cannabis on the same level as other prescription pain relievers.”
“It helps many Pennsylvanians, including many of our seniors. It’s time to remove the stigma and treat this drug as we do others,” he said.
For Rabb, the bill is personal, noting that he, too, is a medical cannabis user.
“Anyone, like me, who regularly uses cannabis for symptom relief, will always be breaking the law when we get behind the wheel given that traces of THC can remain in our system for up to a month,” Rabb said. “As the law is written today, I could go to jail for six months for driving four weeks after swallowing a few drops of cannabis tincture sold at a dispensary licensed by the very same government that cashes in on tax revenue from the sale of medical cannabis. That’s perverse. And it’s also easily corrected. Our legislation will set things right.”
On the other side of Pennsylvania’s general assembly, a separate bill aims to remedy the same problem.
State Senator Camera Bartolotta, a Republican, has her own bill that would “change that by requiring proof of impairment for someone to be charged with and convicted of DUI, not just a THC level,” local television station WFMZ reported.
At a hearing on Tuesday, a medical cannabis patient named Jesse Roedts testified in support of Bartolotta’s legislation, recounting a time that he was charged with DUI despite being a medical marijuana patient and showing no signs of impairment.
“When the medical cannabis laws were passed in Pennsylvania, a critical detail was missed,” said Roedts, as quoted by WFMZ. “That detail was DUI reform for legal card holders. The state legalized medical cannabis and then turned hundreds of thousands of patients into potential criminals.”