Montana Legislature

Jan 20, 2011 8:17 PM by Dan Boyce

DUI bill before MT Legislature concerns medical marijuana community

State lawmakers are looking at a list of DUI related bills this week. The bills seek to crack down on drunk driving through stricter punishment for the crime.

One, House Bill 33, is facing stark opposition from the medical marijuana community.

The language of the bill reads:

"It is unlawful and punishable...for any person to drive...while there is any dangerous drug in the person's body."

Prescription drugs are exempt from the bill. But Executive Director of the Montana Medical Growers Association Jim Gingery says medical marijuana is recommended rather than prescribed. So it fits this definition of dangerous drug.

"(The bill) would mean that any medical cannabis patient in the state would not be able to drive, ever," Gingery said.

Gingery says cannabis remains in someone's system for almost a month. Yet he says the impairing side affects of marijuana wear off in a few hours after use.

Dr. Kathryn Borgenicht works in geriatric medicine and palliative care at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. Some of her patients use cannabis. When told the medical marijuana community is concerned with this bill.

'"They should be because I think that means they could be pulled over and given a ticket...and penalized for something that is actually helping their medical condition, and I think that's a problem," she said.

Dr. Borgenicht did however add that she is not fully familiar with the bill.

Republican Representative Ken Peterson is sponsoring the bill. He says he does not believe medical marijuana advocates are interpreting the bill correctly.

"If there is no probable cause to believe they are impaired...they won't be charged," Peterson said in a phone interview Thursday. When asked if they would be willing to specify that statement in an amendment to the bill, Peterson said ‘no.'

Gingery says this may be a backdoor attempt to block the use of medical cannabis.

Representative Peterson is a vocal supporter for repealing the Montana Medical Marijuana Act.

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