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Proposed bill would set a legal limit for THC in bloodstream for Michigan drivers

Posted at 5:31 AM, May 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 05:31:40-04

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — One Michigan lawmaker wants to make sure those who drive while high are held accountable. A new bill is aiming to set a legal limit for the amount of THC a driver has in their system.

Rep. Pamela Hornberger of Macomb County has introduced HB 4727, which would set the legal limit of THC a driver can have in their system to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.

For the family of 3 1/2-year-old Liliana Leas or “Lily”, a law like this could have made the difference in receiving justice for the death of their daughter.

“There are no words, you can’t explain perfection, you can say a million things over and over and over and explain her in a hundred different ways but there is no way to describe who she was,” said Lily’s mother, Joann Salas.

Lily’s step-grandmother, Nicole Leas of Warren, is accused of running over Lily a year ago while driving high. However, with no set limit of how high is too high on the books, prosecutors say they only able to charge her with is a misdemeanor in Lily’s death, up to a year in jail.

“She killed our baby and she’s doesn’t, what we feel gets nothing, like a slap on the wrist,” said Salas.

It was Lily’s story that inspired Hornberger to work with Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido to introduce this bill.

“Would that make your case easier today?” Asked 7 Action News Reporter Ali Hoxie in regards to Lily’s case.

“Absolutely, 100%,” said Lucido. “It would have been a real easier case as it relates to how high is one too high to drive a vehicle even if it is moving a car six feet.”

“We’ve already had, that we know of, one child killed by a person that was strictly under the influence of THC, no alcohol in their system no other drugs in their system so no is not an option,” said Hornberger.

However, experts say taking blood measurements of THC is an inaccurate way of determining if someone is driving high.

“This is a very difficult question, you know, I mean, it certainly can impact many many people,” said Norbert Kaminski.

Kaminski is a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University. He also is one of six who sat on the Impaired Driving Safety Commission; made up of professors, physicians and representatives from Michigan State Police. It was in 2019 the commission determined no THC level should be set for Michigan drivers.

Kaminski explains when a person gets high, THC levels spike and decline quickly within the body and then plateau. Unlike blood-alcohol levels which have a clear correlation.

The concern Kaminski had along with the board, is THC levels plateau out and remaining in the blood system for days even after the high has dissipated. He says it could lead to false convictions.

“We also don’t want to charge people with impaired driving if they are not impaired,” said Kaminski. “You can imagine somebody who is above that legal limit serval days after they have smoke cannabis are not going to be impaired anymore but they would certainly be over some of these limits that we are discussing.”

2019 Impaired Driving Report by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

Similar laws are already on the books in six states; Illinois, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. The legal limit ranges between one to five nanograms of THC in a driver's bloodstream.

Here in Michigan, there is a zero-tolerance policy for driving high, but determining if someone is high is left up to a sobriety test conducted by law enforcement. Lucido says having a set limit in place would strengthen legal cases for those who do drive high.

“We lost a little girl, Lily is a little girl and that is what this law is about,” said Lucido.

Hornberger says the five nanograms proposed is just a starting point. She and Lucido are hoping this bill starts a conversation here in Michigan to try and set a THC limit. Both say if other states can do it, Michigan can too.

Kaminski did say he feels there is room to develop more accurate ways of determining impairment in roadside sobriety test. That being said, Lucido says there are a lack of law enforcement properly trained to conduct those sobriety test for those driving high.