Marijuana is stored in bins for trimming and packaging in preparation to be sold retail at 3D Cannabis Center, in Denver, Friday Feb. 14, 2014. / Brennan Linsley AP
DETROIT -- A provision in a bill pending in the Michigan Legislature that would let police give roadside saliva tests to drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs will be removed from the legislation Thursday, according to a cosponsor of the bill.
Critics, including university researchers, said the tests are inaccurate and would allow improper arrests of medical-marijuana patients.
Republican state Rep. Mike Callton said he planned to introduce an amendment removing the use of saliva testing at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.
"There's a lot of things you can test for in saliva, but testing for marijuana is unproven," said Callton, a chiropractor.
"This would be like giving people pregnancy tests on the side of the road where you'd only have limited accuracy. And there's the issue of, 'I can have medical marijuana a month ago but I'll still have traces of it in my body, so I would be considered intoxicated'" by the tests, Callton said Wednesday night.
Two bills on the issue were intended to give police the same sort of law enforcement tools available in the arrest of those suspected of drunken driving. They called for the use of the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) system to access information about any pending cases of drugged driving involving a motorist.
With the removal of the saliva test provision, officers would rely on field sobriety tests to determine whether a motorist was under the influence of drugs.
The bills were spurred by a double-fatal crash last year in St. Clair County in which a repeat offender drove under the influence of painkillers, Callton said.
They would give police more tools for arresting drugged drivers, which Callton favors, but he said he'd been unaware of the saliva-testing provision until the Detroit Free Press called him last month for an article.
The bills' sponsor, Republican state Rep. Dan Lauwers, said he'd decided to remove the saliva-testing provision until the technology is perfected, "and then we can bring it back."
Lauwers said the larger purpose of the bills is to target drug abusers who have repeatedly driven while impaired. He lives near Port Huron and said there had been fatal crashes in his district caused by motorists who repeatedly abused drugs and who continued driving after multiple arrests.
"The goal for this legislation has always been to get these repeat offenders off the road," he said. The final wording for the bills was "still being worked out" Wednesday night, and it might contain language saying that new roadside methods are needed to test motorists suspected of driving while drugged, Lauwers said.
"Law enforcement feels very strongly that we, as a society, are going to need this, and not just for marijuana but for all of the controlled substances," including prescription painkillers that are frequently abused, he said.
Across the country, states and police agencies are wrestling with how to determine who is too drugged to be driving, Troy police Sgt. Andy Breidenich said.
"If you look at our crime stats, compared to five years ago, we have a whole lot more (arrests for) drugged driving - it's a change of culture going on," Breidenich said this week.
Troy police, with a special unit assigned to catch impaired drivers, patrol not only the main roads in the city but also I-75, he said. Their round-the-clock efforts result in arrests of motorists from all over the country who are driving while impaired, Troy police reports show. While officers can use a portable breath tester to establish a basis for arrest of a suspected drunken driver, they have no such physiological test for drugged drivers, he said.
So officers put motorists suspected of abusing drugs through field sobriety testing, which includes an officer's visual exam of the suspect as well as the administration of a battery of simple verbal and physical tests, he said.
Michigan's medical-marijuana groups were sharp critics of roadside saliva testing last month when they learned of the provision being considered in Lansing.
"I understand the need to protect the safety of our roads, but there's very little if any connection between these tests and determining who is an impaired driver," said lawyer Komorn, a medical-marijuana user and president of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association.
"There's a tremendous body of research that shows the difficulties with these tests," Komorn said.
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