The ever-growing number of states which have legalized either medical marijuana or recreational marijuana has created a number of issues for law enforcement and the justice system. Chief among those issues is the challenge of enforcing laws against operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana. In an effort to overcome this challenge, the Norwegian company Drauger developed the DrugTest 5000. This system uses a mouth swab, taken roadside, to help determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana or other drugs. The DrugTest 5000 has been in use in Norway since 2015 and has seen growing use in the United States. This test, however, is probably not the solution for law enforcement’s problems.
Ohio and Pennsylvania are two states which still prosecute drivers for DUI / OVI marijuana, even if the marijuana metabolites in the driver’s system are not affecting the person’s ability to drive. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office recently announced it will not prosecute cannabis DUIs unless the driver has amounts of psychoactive THC which affect driving. Ohio prosecutors should consider implementing this policy.
An appellate case decided earlier this month illustrates how not to attack the constitutionality of a law. In the case of State v. Topolosky, the Tenth District Court of Appeals upheld Ohio’s DUI/OVI marijuana law. Coincidentally, just before the case was published, I wrote about this topic in this blog, and I spoke about this topic at two seminars. The defendant in Topolosky did essentially the opposite of what I suggested in the blog and presentations. The defendant used an argument destined to fail…with bad timing…without an expert witness.
The argument destined to fail was the argument that the law violates the defendant’s rights to due process and equal protection. This argument was destined to fail because, unless a suspect classification or fundamental right is involved, the law is judged using the ‘rational basis test’. With this test, the law will only be considered unconstitutional if the law has no rational relationship to a legitimate government interest.
When courts apply the rational basis test, it is incredibly rare for a law to be held unconstitutional. Using the rational basis test, another Ohio appellate court had already upheld the OVI marijuana ‘per se’ law in State v. Schulz. It is no surprise the Court of Appeals in Topolosky upheld the same law using the same rationale.
Issue 3 went up in smoke last week, so it’s still illegal to use marijuana in Ohio. It’s also illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of marijuana or with a prohibited level of marijuana metabolite in one’s urine. The last article in this blog addressed the duration of marijuana’s effects and the duration of marijuana’s detectability. The conclusion was marijuana effects last for two hours to five hours, but marijuana metabolites are detectable in urine for up to five weeks. With that backdrop, this article discusses whether Ohio’s DUI/OVI marijuana laws are Constitutional.
The part of Ohio’s OVI law with the most significant Constitutional problem is the part which prohibits driving with marijuana metabolites in one’s urine. Ohio Revised Code section 4511.19(A)(1)(j)(viii)(II) says no person shall operate a vehicle with a concentration of at least thirty-five nanograms of marijuana metabolite per milliliter of the person’s urine. A person may be punished for violating this law even though the person’s ability to drive is not at all impaired.
One principle of Constitutional Law is a law should not punish a person based on the person’s status. A case illustrating this principle is Robinson v. California. In that case, the defendant was convicted of a California law which made it a crime to be addicted to a narcotic. The United States Supreme Court held the law was Unconstitutional: it violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. The court made two relevant observations. First, the status of ‘narcotic addiction’ could subject a defendant to repeated arrests. Second, a defendant could be punished for being an addict in the state of California even though he did not possess or consume a narcotic in that state.