A bill working its way through Michigan’s legislature could make the state the first in the nation to allow road-side drug testing of drivers without a warrant, but some critics say it may be a way to jail legal pot users under the state’s new medical marijuana law.
Under a bill proposed by Republican state House Rep. Rick Jones, a noted anti-marijuana advocate, police officers in the state would be issued drug kits they could use during traffic stops, avoiding the current procedure which requires the officer to seek a warrant before testing.
Supporters of the proposal say it will go a long way to taking intoxicated drivers off the roads, but civil liberties advocates point out such tests have a history of false positives, and could also potentially incriminate non-intoxicated people who ingested illicit drugs long before the drug test.
“A portable drug testing kit would be an extremely powerful tool to keep unsafe drivers off our streets,” Jones, a former sheriff, said in a statement. “The current drug testing protocol is time-consuming and expensive. With a portable kit, officers will know in minutes whether the driver is high on drugs.”
But opponents of the policy say police officers may know no such thing. They point to a track record of false positives among saliva-based drug kits. The Marijuana Policy Project gave a demonstration last year of how drug-testing kits could result in innocent people being charged. StopTheDrugWar.org reports:
Mintwood Media’s Adam Eidinger produced a positive test result for cocaine with another kit simply by exposing it to the atmosphere. “This is just air,” Eidinger said, opening up a test and waving it as the reagent turned orange, indicating a positive result.
The testing done at the press conference replicated that done earlier by the researchers, who found that a surprisingly large number of common substances generated false positive results for the presence of drugs. “While testing the specificity of the KN Reagent test kits with 42 non-marijuana substances, I observed that 70% of these tests rendered a false positive,” said Dr. Omar Bagasra, director of the Center for Biotechnology, who conducted the experiments.
Some skeptics raise concerns that people may be falsely charged with impaired driving because they ingested an illicit substance much earlier — and that may become a particular concern for users of medical marijuana, which the state approved in 2008.
“I don’t know if these kits will make drug testing harder or easier,” Jeff Browne of the Mount Pleasant, Michigan, police told CentralMichiganLife. “One obstacle with this kit might be the new medical marijuana law. It stays in your body for 30 days so it’d be interesting to see how they’re going to test for drugs.”
Not all drug-testing kits would detect marijuana 30 days after ingestion. Common types available on the market today claim to detect marijuana for up to 14 hours after use.
Reporting on the law, StopTheDrugWar.org asserts that the “motivation for Jones’ bill appears to be his opposition to the state medical marijuana law, enacted by the will of the voters in 2008. Last month, he introduced a bill that would bar medical marijuana ‘clubs and bars’ throughout the state. In a statement then, the former sheriff worried about ‘clubs where users could get high and drive away, endangering people.'”
Jones’ law, which covers motor vehicle drivers, was introduced in the Michigan House last week, along with accompanying laws that would provide for drug testing for ATV and snowmobile drivers, and legislation covering train operators. The bill would not mandate the use of drug testing kits at road-side stops; it would only make them available to officers.
Road-side drug testing is used in parts of Europe and some Australian states. Canada implemented a road-side drug-testing law in 2008, under which drivers can be fined $1,000 if they are found to be under the influence. Concerns over false positives have been raised under the Canadian law.