I recently taught on the basics of drug law in North Carolina and was reminded just what a tricky area it can be. Chapter 90 of the N.C. General Statutes is a dense, complex, and ever-evolving set of laws proscribing controlled substances. There are many substances, offenses, enhancements, and sentencing rules to know, as well as evidence issues and offense-specific case law. One thorny area involves the law of drug mixtures. While practitioners handling felony drug cases may be aware of the rules here, they may come as a surprise to others. Some applications of the law in this area can produce unexpected results for the unwary defendant. Today’s post examines the rules of drug mixtures and their implications in North Carolina. Continue reading
Tag Archives: THC
On Thursday, June 4, 2020, the North Carolina General Assembly passed S.B. 315, referred to as the State Farm Bill, which was subsequently signed into law by the Governor. The bill was pending all last session and stalled, allegedly over a dispute about how to treat smokable hemp. As I understand it, the bill originally intended to clarify that hemp in all forms (including smokable hemp) was legal (here is an earlier version of the bill taking that approach). After hearing objections from law enforcement and prosecutors (as detailed in the SBI memo on the subject), the proposed bill was changed to ban smokable hemp and regulate the rest of the hemp industry in a variety of ways. When the bill was last being discussed in the news, the dispute at the General Assembly had apparently narrowed to when the smokable hemp ban was to kick in. But, the bill never passed last session, and we were without a Farm Bill until this month. So, what big changes does the bill have in store for hemp in North Carolina? Continue reading →
The advent of cannabis legalization across the country has led to a proliferation of new types of cannabis products. There are skin patches, food and drinks (for humans and pets), vaporizer or “vape” cartridges (or “carts”), and different concentrate or extract products (“dabs”, “wax” or “shatter”, among other names). [Click that last link and scroll down to see a chart listing the different forms of extracts and their names.] The products can be made from lawful hemp, or from illegal marijuana alike. The illegal versions have found their way into North Carolina, and questions abound regarding how to handle these cases. The questions most commonly involve wax and cartridges, so this post takes a look at the issues surrounding those cases (leaving the skin patches and edibles for another day). Continue reading →
Ask someone to identify an emerging area of interest related to motor vehicle law and chances are the person will mention drugged driving. Indeed, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2010 set a goal of reducing the prevalence of drug-impaired driving by 10 percent by 2015. People who work in the field frequently cite anecdotal evidence supporting the notion that driving while impaired by drugs is becoming more common. Are they right? Are more people these days driving while impaired by drugs?
The New York Times reported earlier this week that driving under the influence of marijuana is significantly less risky than driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08. That’s a good thing, since the Times also reported that impairment from marijuana is difficult to detect using the current battery of standardized field sobriety tests and difficult to confirm through subsequent laboratory tests. The article summarized several recent studies making these findings and noted the conclusion of some experts that public resources would be better spent combating alcohol-impaired driving, including perhaps lowering the per se threshold for alcohol concentrations to 0.05, than in establishing a per se limit for blood-THC content or devising roadside tests to detect for marijuana impairment.
Why is driving while stoned less risky? The simple answer is that marijuana and alcohol have different physiology. Drivers impaired by alcohol tend to overestimate their skills and drive faster. Drivers impaired by marijuana do the opposite. A professor of public policy interviewed for the Times article noted the old joke about “‘Cheech and Chong being arrested for doing 20 on the freeway.’” (The Times ran a picture of the famous comedic duo to accompany its story, which, if you ask me, it should have saved for Throwback Thursday (#tbt)). Studies estimate that drivers who are stoned are twice as likely to crash. A 20-year-old driver who has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, in contrast, is almost 20 times more likely to be in a fatal accident than a sober driver.
Why is marijuana impairment hard to detect? THC is the chemical that gives marijuana its psychoactive punch. It can take as long as four hours for THC metabolites to appear in urine after smoking, and urine can test positive for those metabolites days or weeks after a person last smoked. As the National Highway Transportation Administration’s fact sheet on marijuana puts it, this is “well past the window of intoxication and impairment.” And because concentrations of THC in a person’s blood depend in part upon the pattern of marijuana use, it is difficult to establish a relationship between a specified blood concentration and performance impairing effects. The Times reports that regular marijuana smokers could have a blood-THC content that meets the limits set in Colorado and Washington for THC concentration a full day after they last smoked.
Driving while stoned is illegal in North Carolina as is driving under the influence of any “impairing substance.” Yet, given the scientific limitations discussed above, stoned driving can be a tough case for the State to prove. While the State may establish per se impairment by proving that a person had any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in his or her blood or urine, to prove impairment from marijuana, a Schedule VI controlled substance, the State must prove that the person’s physical or mental faculties were appreciably impaired by that substance at the time he or she drove.
Governor Pat McCrory recently appointed members to a Statewide Impaired Driving Task Force that is charged with developing a statewide plan for preventing and reducing impaired driving. Should the prevention of stoned driving be a priority for this group? Or should it instead focus on alcohol-impaired driving? What should its strategy be? Adoption or amendment of per se limits? Expanding options for treatment? Something else?
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