Michigan medical marijuana supporters concerned about 'drugged driving' proposal to allow saliva field testing

Brian Smith, MLive

Pro-medical marijuana groups are opposed to proposed changes to Michigan's driving laws that would allow police officers to test a driver's saliva for the presence of drugs during a traffic stop.

The House Judiciary Committee took testimony Thursday on a three-bill package to address "drugged driving" and make driving while under the influence of a controlled substance subject to the same testing requirements as drunk driving.

State law currently allows for blood, breath and urine testing for intoxication. But House Bill 5385 would expand that testing to include saliva testing through a mouth swab. Police in Los Angeles are already using saliva tests at DUI checkpoints as part of a pilot program.

Sgt. Dwayne Gill, legislative liaison for the Michigan State Police, told the House panel that the changes would "put a new tool in our toolbox" for dealing with drugged driving, but that police would not immediately use the tests until the science behind them was proven.

"It's forward-thinking," Gill said. "These tests have not been proven to be reliable in Michigan yet, but we are looking to have pilot testing in the future on some of these tests."

Medical marijuana advocates told lawmakers they have concerns about saliva testing because of questions surrounding the accuracy of the tests.

"The test does not confirm intoxication," Robin Schneider from the National Patients Rights Association, a Michigan-based medical marijuana advocacy group, told legislators. "What the test says is either yes, you have marijuana in your system, or no it doesn't. We want arrests to be based on the driver recognition evaluation, not based on the saliva test."

Medical marijuana patients are allowed to drive after consuming the drug, but only if they are not driving erratically or posing a danger to others. Schneider said a patient who was pulled over, even if not driving erratically, would test positive, and compared the test to a pregnancy test rather than an alcohol breath test.

"Driving with miniscule amounts of cannabis metabolites in your system is not an activity that is inherently dangerous. There is really no crisis here which we are facing," Rick Thompson, with the Michigan chapter of Americans for Safe Access, told lawmakers. "Scientific testing, and the validity of tests, are done by scientists, not by police officers."

The committee will continue taking testimony on the bills, which would also allow for police officers to confiscate driving licenses and issue temporary permits for drugged drivers as they do for suspected drunk drivers now.