Schaumburg group says state's proposed pot-DUI threshold is too high
The Schaumburg-based Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists is opposing a move by state legislators that would set a 15-nanogram threshold for driving under the influence of THC -- the active chemical in marijuana -- for drivers to be considered legally impaired.
AAIM, which does not oppose marijuana decriminalization or medical use, says 15 nanograms is three times the 5-nanogram THC threshold in Colorado, where marijuana is legal for recreational use, and it will ultimately will be dangerous for Illinois roads.
"You're going to have people showing impairment, yet they are under the limit," said AAIM board member Elizabeth Earleywine, who also is a former prosecutor. "We're concerned this gives carte blanche to people to smoke as much marijuana as they want and get behind the wheel of a car."
The amendment is part of a larger bill that, if passed, would impose civil fines instead of jail time and criminal penalties for many marijuana possession cases.
The bill passed the Illinois House and made it through a Senate committee Wednesday; it could be called for a vote next week, officials said.
If Gov. Bruce Rauner signs it, it will take effect in 180 days; the threshold would then apply to all driving under the influence cases involving marijuana, including those where someone is injured or killed in a crash.
A person could still be convicted of DUI-marijuana if under the 15 nanogram THC standard, but prosecutors must prove in court that the driver was impaired.
Current state law has a zero tolerance approach when it comes to THC levels in fatal or serious crashes. If a driver has even a trace amount of THC in his body, he or she is automatically considered to be driving under the influence and prosecutors do not have to prove impairment in court.
Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat who is the bill's primary sponsor in the senate, said he is aware of AAIM's concerns but noted the Illinois State's Attorney's Association helped negotiate the bill and it has the support of Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Noland said lawmakers and the association wanted to strike a compromise between Colorado's 5-nanogram THC threshold and the state of Washington's 25-nanogram THC threshold.
"We're creating a standard that is more or less right in the middle. I think we're doing the right thing," Noland said. "We have to move ahead somehow, and I think we doing it in a real responsible way."
Noland equated the process to establishing a legal threshold for driving under the influence of alcohol in Illinois. Decades ago, Noland said, the legal threshold was .15 blood alcohol concentration for driving under the influence in Illinois.
The BAC was reduced to .10 and to its present day .08 as more data became available and studies showed alcohol's effect on the body, Noland said.
"We'll come back and we'll discuss perhaps leaving that level if the science and date indicate we should," Noland said. "We have a .08 level of BAC in Illinois. The most comparable level for cannabis is 15 nanograms, based on what research has indicated to us."
AAIM Executive Director Rita Kreslin said the alliance wants lawmakers to adopt the 5 nanogram THC threshold, or not have any threshold at all and require authorities to prove impairment in court "instead of picking (THC thresholds) that don't make sense."
"Nobody really has a good answer other than 'It's the best possible option at the moment,'" Kreslin said. "We're not against per se limits at all. We think it's a wonderful idea. Our issue is it's going to affect safety on the streets."
Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat and chief sponsor in the House, could not immediately be reached for comment on HB 218.