RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bill to again allow police to search vehicles without a warrant in some cases if they smell marijuana, set a THC limit for drivers and make way for the use of roadside saliva tests in Virginia died in a state Senate committee.
The powerful Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee defeated House Bill 2384, patroned by Del. Les R. Adams (R-Pittsylvania), on a party-line vote Monday.
The measure, which barely advanced out of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, aimed to address the “rising problem of impaired driving,” Del. Adams said, since Virginia legalized marijuana possession.
Adams told the committee his bill came out of the work done by the Virginia State Crime Commission, which released a report last year that found more could be done to stop people from driving stoned.
Under the proposed bill, a person would be presumed to be guilty of driving under the influence of cannabis if they are found to have at least 0.003 milligrams of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive compound that causes the “high” of marijuana — in a liter of their blood.
Democrats on the panel, including state Sens. Joe Morrissey (Richmond) and Scott Surovell (Fairfax), pointed to the differences between how THC and alcohol are stored in the body, including the unreliability of blood tests for recent cannabis use and the potential for false positives.
“There is little consensus in America about the right way to approach this and that’s why the crime commission elected to gather a bunch of data over the next few years to look at exactly what’s going on then come up with tools on how to address this instead of putting the cart before the horse which is I think how this bill does,” Sen. Surovell said Monday.
Adams acknowledged methods for determining whether a driver is impaired by marijuana “is not as precise” as those for alcohol, but added that his proposal would have helped address challenges in prosecuting such cases by establishing guidelines on THC limits.
The bill would have rolled back changes passed by the General Assembly by allowing law enforcement to again use the smell of marijuana to justify searching a vehicle without a warrant during certain investigations.
These include cases when an officer suspected a driver of being under the influence of cannabis or in crashes that resulted in injuries or death.
The legislation would have also allowed law enforcement to use saliva tests to help measure whether a driver is impaired under a similar process used for a person’s blood alcohol content, which allows drivers to refuse a test, but with penalties.
Results from saliva tests can’t be used in court, but would give officers more information before moving forward with a blood test.
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