One of the issues I’ve written about before is the tendency of reformers to leave landmines for the unwary marijuana user while touting their success at “legalizing” marijuana. The reason this is a problem is that users will inevitably blaze away (legally) without realizing that they may still face significant legal risks with nightmarish consequences.
So it wasn’t likely that Brock Meerseman, a 20-year old Illinois man, thought anything of getting behind the wheel more than a week after he last smokied some weed. Unfortunately, Meersman was involved in a traffic collision that killed his passenger and his blood later tested positive for trace amounts of THC metabolites transforming this simple-but-tragic negligence into an “aggravated DUI” with a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in state prison even though he could only have gotten three years if he’d been charged with reckless homicide.
It isn’t always clear whether bad law is a simple demonstration of sloppy draftsmanship, legislative stupidity or a prohibitionist’s intent to stick it to pot-smokers in an act of pure political posturing. Illinois, which has medical marijuana, has this gem:
625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6):
(a) A person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle within this State while:
(6) there is any amount of a drug, substance, or compound in the person’s breath, blood, or urine resulting from the unlawful use or consumption of cannabis listed in the Cannabis Control Act, a controlled substance listed in the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, an intoxicating compound listed in the Use of Intoxicating Compounds Act, or methamphetamine as listed in the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act. Subject to all other requirements and provisions under this Section, this paragraph (6) does not apply to the lawful consumption of cannabis by a qualifying patient licensed under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act who is in possession of a valid registry card issued under that Act, unless that person is impaired by the use of Cannabis.
Unless there is a constitutional challenge to a statute, courts do not have the luxury of simply interpreting stupidity or legislative prudishness out of a statute simply because it is reasonable. Instead, courts can generally be expected to let the legislature shaft a citizen, if that’s the effect of what a law requires, and blame the legislature for the bizarre and unjust results.
In the case of this statute, the problem is with the word “any.”
The problem is that “any” is construed to include even amounts of drugs that are so low as to cause no impairment whatsoever, which is compounded by the fact that THC testing is still more or less incapable of determining impairment and other evidence, such as the so-called “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests” or “SFSTs” used in alcohol cases is of dubious value.
That makes cases like Meersman’s difficult to defend, and risky. In many cases, an innocent person might plead guilty to an offense just to avoid the harsh results of losing at trial. (Meerseman eventually plead guilty and was placed on probation.)
I’m sure that must be a consolation to the people who’ve been tossed in prison despite not having actually been high at the time of driving.