Nevada NewsMakers

News - April 12, 2019 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar

Nevada Newsmakers

State Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, is postponing his tougher DUI-penalties bill at the Nevada Legislature until the state can do a study on the impairment levels of marijuana.

Sales of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older became legal in Nevada in 2017, yet the process of detecting drivers who are high on cannabis products is not an exact science.

Currently, almost any amount of THC (chemical responsible for marijuana's psychological effects) in the blood will get you into trouble in Nevada. The legal limit for recreational use is two nanograms of marijuana or marijuana metabolite per milliliter of blood, which Hammond says is a questionable threshold.

"Right now the law says about two nanograms is what you are looking at," Hammond said on Nevada Newsmakers. "But research is showing us that if you draw the blood and test them, the two nanograms is actually the margin or error. So you don't know for sure if they are impaired."

Hammond made his decision to hold back on his DUI legislation after meeting with some of Nevada's district attorneys and police.

"There is going to be a push to do a study to understand nanograms a bit better than we do now," he said. "And so I think in the end what we decided was a lot of what was asked in this bill should probably be postponed because we have to correlate and make sure the laws for both DUIs for alcohol and for drugs, marijuana, in this case, align better.

"We have to have a better idea so we can give law enforcement clearer directions on what to do," Hammond told host Sam Shad. "I think we are going to see some movement on this."

Determining marijuana impairment is more complicated than determining alcohol impairment, according to a study by the AAA, the nation’s largest auto club. The AAA study also suggests that consuming cannabis products and driving can make you a victim of a legal system that has no universally-accepted and accurate way of testing for DUI marijuana.

"I came out of the meetings (with the district attorneys and police thinking) we really need to study it," Hammond said. "It is really about how long the effect of the drug stays in the body. You can still have some of the effects of the drug in your body and not be impaired. So we have to do a better job of studying that. We have to get the right tools to law enforcement."

Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas, is sponsoring a bill that would allow registered medical marijuana users as much as 100 nanograms of marijuana metabolite per milliliter of blood. Regular users of marijuana can have higher amounts of the metabolite in their blood and not be impaired, studies show.

Harris' bill, assigned to the Senate Growth and Infrastructure Committee, also calls for a legislative study on intoxicating effects of marijuana.

Nevada is not the only state having a marijuana "nanogram intoxication debate."

The Colorado Legislature recently postponed a vote on legislation that would establish a five-nanogram level for marijuana impairment.

"The five-nanogram limit for marijuana has just never been well proven," Colorado Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland told Denver TV Channel 7. "The issue is one where our police officers are doing their jobs, the DAs are doing their jobs and yet they don't get convictions because there's not good science behind it."

Hammond's quest for better science does not mean his proposal on punishments for DUI has been watered down.

His bill calls for increasing the minimum sentence for a DUI conviction from two days to 30 days. It also removes the requirement that a person have at least three impaired driving or DUI convictions to be convicted of vehicular homicide, which is a Category A felony.

"This (DUI) is one type of crime that I just don't get," he said. "People know that when they drink and get behind the wheel, they have the potential to take somebody else's life and that is selfish in my mind. If we can do anything to try and prevent that person from getting behind that wheel ... we have the technology, the Uber and Lyfts and taxis. They will come and get you. And yet we still have people who will do this.

"So I think we really need to hit them hard," Hammond said. "So the first time you have a DUI, we should be tough on them."