California Proposes Zero Tolerance Policy for Underage Drivers on Marijuana
Golden State cops are still operating without a viable roadside test for cannabis intoxication, but that hasn’t stopped State Senator Jerry Hill from proposing legislation to target teen drivers.
Published on February 22, 2018

A recently introduced piece of legislation in California's State Senate is targeting Golden State teenagers and young adults as a way to combat wider concerns about stoned drivers, despite a lack of accepted science or data supporting the bill.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Senate Bill 1273 (SB1273), introduced last week by State Senator Jerry Hill, D - San Mateo, would create a zero tolerance policy for cannabis use by California drivers under the age of 21. The bill would give law enforcement officers the ability enforce a one year driver's license suspension for any minor who fails a roadside cannabis test, no matter when they last consumed the now-legal plant.

"It's important because we want to make sure that minors do not use marijuana and drive," Hill said in a prepared statement after filing the bill. "This makes marijuana use consistent with alcohol use and it reiterates the message that driving under the influence of any drug is unacceptable, risky, and dangerous."

However, while Hill's bill would absolutely create consistency in the consequences for teen alcohol and cannabis use, the legislation does not account for the immense differences between the two substances. Unlike alcohol intoxication, which can be properly measured with a handheld breathalyzer, no accepted test yet exists for measuring time-specific cannabis intoxication. And because weed stays in a users system for weeks or even months, real-world implications of Hill's bill could see teenagers banned from the road over a joint that was smoked weeks before a police encounter.

"[SB1273] will do nothing to make the roads safer, nor to reduce youth drug abuse," Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "What it will do is encourage cops to conduct random screenings of young drivers without any evidence of dangerous driving and grab their licenses for no good reason."

In the bill itself, Hill imagines California Highway Patrol officers using "oral swabs or chemical field tests" to determine whether a driver is under the influence of weed. But despite ongoing research and localized trials, the LA Times reports that no such product has been approved for use by California highway cops.

"We don't have a device in the field to measure impairment by cannabis," Richard Desmond, an assistant chief for the California Highway Patrol, told legislators this week.

As municipalities and states around the country continue to make strides in cannabis reform, drugged driving and roadway safety have understandably emerged as hot-button post-prohibition issues. But without proper research and data, legislators and law enforcement will continue to criminalize cannabis use, whether it affects a person's driving ability or not.

"California is not suffering a crisis of pot-impaired kids on the road," Gieringer told the Chronicle. "DUI arrests and youth cannabis use are down, and accident rates are stable in California."

SB1273 has been officially introduced in the California State Senate, but cannot be acted on for at least another month, hopefully giving Golden State legislators enough time to see the errors in Hill's presumptuous bill.

Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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