On 4/20, Vermont House Passes Saliva Drug Testing For Drivers

Apr 20, 2016

The House has given its final approval to legislation that allows law enforcement officials to use a saliva test to determine if a driver is impaired with a combination of alcohol and marijuana.

One of the key issues surrounding the debate over the legalization of marijuana is whether there's an accurate roadside test that can measure how much marijuana is in a driver's system.

Many law enforcement officials think there is a good testing mechanism: using a driver's saliva.

Currently, Vermont's legal blood alcohol level is .08. But under the original House plan, the level would drop to .05 if a person had any trace of marijuana in their system.

Jericho Rep. George Till said this proposal was unfair because marijuana can stay in a person's system for up to a month.

That's why he introduced an amendment that requires a level of 1.5 nanograms of "Delta Nine THC," the active ingredient in marijuana, to trigger the lower .05 blood alcohol limit.

"The problem is that we might very well catch somebody who had no impairment from the THC – it was something they were exposed to a whole month ago,” Till says. “And they then would be subject to a lower blood alcohol allowed level."

House Transportation chairman Pat Brennan strongly endorsed this approach.

“It nullifies the possibility of anyone with that little trace amount of active only THC in their system from being prosecuted,” Brennan says. “[The] 1.5 [nanogram level] did not show up in any traceable amounts in those out weeks.”

Not everyone agreed with the concept of saliva testing. Burlington Rep. Barbara Rachelson had some serious problems with it.

"We're putting something that's important to us as Americans and Vermonters, our privacy, at risk, for perhaps not evidenced-based scientific research,” Rachelson says.

For much of the debate, House members discussed the impact that a combination of alcohol and drugs could have on a driver.

However, House Health Care chairman Bill Lippert reminded his colleagues that drivers can be impaired when their blood alcohol level reaches .05 without any other drugs in their system. 

It's a level that Lippert says is used by more than 100 countries.

“Your depth perception changes, your cognitive abilities change and you are impaired to drive. You are at greater risk of accidents and study after study shows that,” Lippert says. “We're just behind the curve from the rest of the world."

The saliva-testing plan is part of a much larger Senate bill that addresses a number of issues involving the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Senate leaders will now decide if they want to keep this new section in the overall legislation.