Saturday, Jul 02, 2016
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Senate passes bill defining 'drugged' driving

COLUMBUS - The Ohio Senate yesterday approved a bill to set minimum standards for "drugged drivers."

"Although we have a standard of 0.08 for alcohol, we have no ... standard for driving under the influence to measure drugs," said state Sen. Steve Austria (R., Beavercreek), the bill's sponsor. "Cases become subjective and vary from court to court." The Senate voted 30-1 to approve the bill, which moves to a House committee.

The bill does not change the penalties for those convicted of operating a vehicle under the influence, an offense which covers motorists and boaters impaired by drugs or alcohol and commonly is referred to as DUI.

The measure sets the following minimum standards for several drugs, including:

●10 nanograms of marijuana per milliliter in the person's urine, or two nanograms per milliliter in blood. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram and a milliliter is a unit of volume equal to one-thousandth of a liter.

●150 nanograms of cocaine per milliliter in urine, or 50 nanograms per milliliter in blood.

●2,000 nanograms of heroin per milliliter in urine, or 50 nanograms per milliliter in blood.

Capt. John Born, a legislative lobbyist for the Ohio Highway Patrol, said the bill would not change procedures for law enforcement officers when they make traffic stops.

The highway patrol, which makes about 25,000 DUI arrests annually, tests about 2,500 people per year for drugs.

For motorists who agree to a test, most take a urine test, although those injured in crashes typically are administered blood tests.

"What it will do is give us the same objective measure for drugs that exists for alcohol, so a jury or a judge can have confidence that the person we have arrested has got levels that are high enough that it did not accidentally or involuntarily get into their system," Captain Born said.

But Ed Orlett, a former state lawmaker who is the Ohio representative for the Drug Policy Alliance, said the minimum marijuana standard should be raised from two nanograms per milliliter and higher in blood to five nanograms. "That produces the level of impairment as .08 blood-alcohol," he said.

Mr. Orlett said a minimum urine standard should not be included in state law because urine tests only pick up past marijuana use - not impairment levels.

Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss (D., Cleveland) was the sole no vote yesterday. She said that she agreed with Mr. Orlett's criticism of the bill.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.

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