Sober Cannabis Consumers in Utah Already Can Be Convicted of Stoned Driving. This Legislator Thinks the Law Is Too Lenient.

His bill would authorize felony prosecutions of drivers with THC in their blood even when they are not impaired.


A Utah legislator plans to introduce a bill that would make drivers presumptively impaired when they exceed a specified THC blood level. That approach is based on a fundamentally mistaken understanding of marijuana intoxication, and it would replace a legal standard that is already unfair and unscientific with one that would unjustly convict sober drivers of felonies as well as misdemeanors.

"Why are we treating marijuana intoxication as a lesser offense than alcohol intoxication?" state Rep. Steve Waldrip (R–Eden) asked in an interview with the Ogden, Utah, Examiner-Standard. The bill he plans to introduce, he said, "would simply mirror what happens with alcohol." But that makes no sense, because THC blood levels, unlike alcohol blood levels, are not a good indicator of impairment.

Waldrip is responding mainly to an accident in Harrisville last November that killed 29-year-old Brittany Zoller. Zoller was walking across a highway at night when she was struck by a car whose driver, Krystal Sly, tested positive for THC. Sly, whose THC blood level was eight nanograms per milliliter, faces a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to six months in jail.

Zoller's family and Waldrip view that penalty as a slap on the wrist. Yet there was no evidence that Sly was impaired at the time of the accident. "The young lady who died was extremely intoxicated and walking in the middle of a street with a 50 mph speed limit," Sly's lawyer observed. Zoller's blood alcohol concentration was 0.21 percent, more than four times the level that defines drunk driving in Utah.

Sly "could not be charged with a felony unless we could prove impairment," Weber County Attorney Chris Allred told the Examiner-Standard. "In this case we could not prove impairment." Citing the police report on the incident, the paper says Sly "was driving under the speed limit at the time of the accident, quickly stopped and attempted to aid" Zoller.

The legal change that Waldrip favors would have made it possible to prosecute Sly for a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. That hardly seems like a just outcome, since it looks like Sly was not driving in a negligent manner and was not at fault in the accident.

Under current Utah law, driving with "any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance" in your blood is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Since marijuana metabolites can be detected for weeks after consumption, this law effectively means that regular cannabis consumers are committing a crime whenever they drive, regardless of whether they are impaired. State-approved medical marijuana users have an affirmative defense against this charge.

It is also a Class B misdemeanor in Utah to drive under the influence of any drug "to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle." When a crash results in serious injury or death, the offense becomes a felony. But that charge requires evidence of impairment beyond blood test results—a requirement that Waldrin wants to eliminate. The Examiner-Standard says he is contemplating a standard similar to Nevada's, which presumes impairment at a THC level of two nanograms per milliliter, or Colorado's, which allows juries to convict people of driving under the influence (DUI) when their THC blood levels equal or exceed five nanograms per milliliter.

There is no scientific basis for either of those standards, because THC blood levels, unlike alcohol blood levels, do not reliably correspond with degrees of impairment, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has repeatedly pointed out. Since THC is absorbed by fatty tissue, regular cannabis consumers can easily exceed the Nevada or Colorado cutoff even when they are perfectly capable of driving safely. While Waldrip perceives a double standard in the way alcohol and marijuana are treated under Utah's DUI law, the distinction between the two when it comes to prosecuting drivers for felonies simply acknowledges the difference between alcohol blood tests, which are a good indicator of impairment, and THC blood tests, which are not.

When it comes to prosecuting drivers for DUI misdemeanors, Utah law not only ignores that crucial point; it sets a zero-tolerance standard much stricter than the rule for drinkers. Given how long inactive marijuana metabolites can be detected, an equivalent rule for alcohol would make drivers guilty of DUI weeks after their last drink.

In addition to jail time and fines, misdemeanor DUI convictions trigger a four-month suspension of the driver's license and mandatory participation in an education program. For a second offense, the minimum jail or community service time rises from two days to 10 days, and a third offense is a felony—all without any evidence of impairment. That is the real double standard.

NEXT: Will Justin Amash Run for President as a Libertarian in 2020?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The young lady who died was extremely intoxicated and walking in the middle of a street with a 50 mph speed limit…

    They always seem to choose the wrong victims to make their cases for these kinds of thing. And it usually doesn’t matter.

    1. Was it a white female with a telegenic family willing to grieve and angrily advocate for stricter punishment on TV?

      Then it was the right victim.

      Sure, it would have been better if she had been pushing a cute toddler in a stroller… but you take what you can get.


    1. Reefer Madness part VIII

      1. Part 9,999, more like.

  3. Utah is infested by Morons, I mean Mormons, who let their angel (called “Moroni”, for real) and their “church elders” do their thinking for them. The known data, and science, need not apply.

    This is par for the course!

    1. If only you could pawn this off on a fringe religion…

      But no, stupid isn’t confined to Utah.

    2. Utah is the state that dropped its DUI BAC level from .08 to .05, despite little, if any, evidence that dropping it from .10 to .08 saved any lives. Drinking, and presumably toking up, is/are a moral issue.

      I lived in SLC through 9/11/01 and their 2002 Olympics, and found it interesting that there seemed to be more binge drinking than anywhere else I had lived. It seemed tribal. When two guys made partner, the firm passed around trays of drinks for everyone to toast with. Those of us who weren’t Mormon, even if we normally didn’t drink it, esp during the day, picked champagne, while the Mormons all picked fruit juice. Every one of them, even if you had had a beer with one of the two n the past. Drinking alcohol seemed to often be a tribal statement.

      No one should be surprised that the legislature, inevitably under Mormon control, would enact these laws, nor that the governor, inevitably Mormon, would approve them. Normally, living in Utah isn’t that different than living anywhere else (except for it being hard to find real iced tea), but then something will happen that reminds you that you are a gentile (even if you are Jewish) in the Mormons’ promised land.

      1. How about placing the blame for statist bullshit on the the statist assholes who promote it instead of smearing an entire religion.

        Utah recently passed a free-range child law and revised the statutes so that you can’t be ticketed for running a red light when there are no other vehicles in sight. Those are pretty libertarian advances that have actually been covered by Reason.

        1. Statist assholes get a HUGE fraction of their arrogant self-righteous busy-bodiness from religious impulses! This is WAY well documented in Peter McWilliam’s “Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do…” Excellent book!

          Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society

          1. You conveniently neglect to note that secular/atheistic governments are responsible for the death of 200 million in the last century. They are blasting water cannons at the citizens of Hong Kong and ‘re-educating’ the Uighurs out of existence as I write.

            I will take my chances with the Mormons. They actually understand why freedom of religion is important. What with the Governor of Missouri signing that extermination order against anyone claiming their religion and their leaders being executed without trial while disarmed and detained in a county jail in Illinois.

    3. Utah is infested by Morons, I mean Mormons,

      Go fuck yourself, shit-eater.

      1. Also don’t drink any coffee or tea!!! These are the beverages of the Evil One, and they will lead you to Hell!!! Moroni told us so!

      2. But then there’s the “magic underwear” thing. What I don’t get is, HOW does the magic underwear prevent the followers of Moroni from following their evil temptations, and drinking coffee or tea? If the magic underwear is supposed to form some sort of preventative barrier against the intake of these evil liquids, shouldn’t the magic underwear be worn on one’s HEAD?

        Or do devout Mormons usually take their liquids anally, rectally, enema-wise? And so THAT is why the magic underwear goes down THERE?

        1. Is it just your own feces you get the impulse to eat, or is it other people’s too? Is it species specific, or does animal poo trigger you? Is there a black market for celebrity poo? Who’s poo would you do? Do you always vomit?

          I don’t really want to know any of that, but people reading your comments should be warned that you have serious mental problems.

          As an aside, you should have a lot more fear of Progressives. They will turn on you nutjobs first, and then the perverts and retards if they ever get power. You can tell the real libertarians, as they will simply pity you and avoid you until you inevitably start killing small animals.

          1. No answers in the offing about the proper use of magic underwear?

            I haz a sad!!! : (

            1. Do you understand that what you are mocking is simply a personal choice made by millions of people to wear an intimate reminder of their religious covenants every day in such a way that it is not on public display? What are your thoughts on the billions that wear visible religious garb for the exact same purpose? Hindi, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Catholics with their iconic crosses? Close to half of the population of the entire world openly wear religious garb or display religious symbols daily. Wouldn’t they be even more worthy of mockery for just putting it out their for any unbeliever to view?

              Perhaps you should think twice before you start shit. We already know you have to think twice after you shit.

              1. As long as religions keep their rosaries OFF of my ovaries, no problem… They are clearly NOT doing that! They deserve blow-back!

                1. Dude, no one is persecuting you. You need help. You have all of the markers of desperate loneliness, mania, and refusal to acknowledge a cogent counter-argument that identify Hihn, lacking only the bold-face type and self-quotations.

                  1. Chuckles the Snarky Piggy
                    September.16.2019 at 3:42 pm… Blah…

                    Go fuck yourself, shit-eater.

                    There you are, persecuting my for my religious beliefs as a shit-eater, obeying the Sacred Holy Bible!


                    Buttercup hypocrite snowflake can’t handle it when the shit that HE deals out, comes back to HIM! Buck up, whining crybaby prima donna shitweasel!

  4. Look, if ignorant legislators weren’t allowed to introduce misguided legislation that fails to address non-existent problems what else would they do?

    1. Address real problems with workable solutions?

      Nope, couldn’t say that with a straight face.

  5. This demonstrates the flawed policies resulting from biased agendas.

    The legalization side doesn’t care that there are no conclusive measurables for THC impairment yet they push their recreational agenda forward.

    In the absence of measureables those responsible to enforce public safety laws are left to decide for themselves without scientific basis.


    1. You omitted the prohibitionist side, with its prudishness and superstition. Why?

      1. I did not. They are simply concerned with public safety and don’t care about the absence of science either.

      2. It’s obvious that Allah wants you to just say no.

        1. Allah is a teetotaler but is cool with Hashish. Assasin anyone?

    2. The legalization side doesn’t care that there are no conclusive measurables for THC impairment
      Why would they?

      How about to convict someone of DUI, you need to convince a jury that they were actually impaired, and not simply that they had consumed some substance at some recent time.

      1. That would require having the science to prove impairment.

        Safety is not only about convicting the guilty but preventing injury in the first place. A scientific method to measure impairment.

        1. The justice system is not about safety and never has been.

          1. Get off it. Lots of laws are concerned with public safety.

            1. Hahahahahahehehehehe,hoooo! But, seriously…

        2. OK, but how about we first make a scientific determination of whether stoned drivers are enough of a safety problem to justify having a law against it at all? Then determine what level (if any) of impairment constitutes a danger, then come up with a scientific way to measure it that is reliable and consistent across different people who react differently to THC consumption. Then we can perhaps make a reasonable and rational law that can be fairly and justly enforced. They have the whole thing backwards.

          1. I’m all about science and justice.

            How can one scientifically determine if THC impairment causes injury without first scientifically determining what constitutes THC impairment in people who cause injury?

        3. That would require having the science to prove impairment.


          We have juries, not computers.

          1. The justice system, whether police, juries or judges is based on evidence of proof.

            Not having that evidence doesn’t mean a crime has not been committed.

            But the evidence that people knowingly consume is in their bloodstream. Without better scientific evidence erroneous decisions will be made based on whatever evidence is available.

    3. The prohibition side doesn’t care that there are no conclusive measurables for THC impairment yet they push their violent authoritarian agenda forward.

      1. Irresponsible behaviour causing injury is violent too.

  6. If I could tell legislators one thing it would be that the more marijuana a person uses, like medical marijuana patients, the less high they get. So numbers and marijuana don’t work..

    Impaired is impaired we need a standard test for impairment not DRE Drug Recognition Experts who guess at what you might have taken even if you show no impairment…

  7. Next, Waldrip will sponsor a bill setting Pi equal to 3. Because the children.

  8. There is no scientific basis for either of those standards, because THC blood levels, unlike alcohol blood levels, do not reliably correspond with degrees of impairment, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has repeatedly pointed out.

    But we all know that anyone who defends druggies must be a druggie, and druggies can’t be believed because they use drugs.

  9. She should sue the jaywalker’s family for damages.

  10. No crime here. If you walk around drunk at night and try to jay walk across a highway you assume the risk.

  11. Pro tip: Get the fuck out of Utah.

  12. because THC blood levels, unlike alcohol blood levels, do not reliably correspond with degrees of impairment

    Neither do blood alcohol levels. At the least because every manufacturer of BAC test machines uses a different means of calculating BAC (which they keep hidden), BAC testing doesn’t test for alcohol, it tests for a molecular component of alcohol that is present in several other chemicals (like acetone), and race and your individual drinking habits all contribute to your level of impairment.

    1. Yeah, I know people who I wouldn’t want driving after one drink and people who I don’t worry about at all if they’ve had a 6 pack over a few hours.
      every manufacturer of BAC test machines uses a different means of calculating BAC (which they keep hidden)
      How does that hold up in court?

      1. A while back the California Supreme Court stated that DUI laws were “arbitrary and capricious” as to the BAC levels being used as standards for illegality. They also said the laws were unfair, due to the driver’s inability to know if they were above that limit before driving – this was before one could buy home breathalyzers – but, “in the name of public safety” they wouldn’t strike down the laws.
        They also allow the clear violation of the Fourth Amendment that are “sobriety checkpoints”.
        So much for laws having to be Constitutional.

    2. We have a local lawyer who’s written a book and is on a lifelong crusade against breathalyzer BS. He basically says it’s highly unjust and unconstitutional, but there’s such a stigma against DD that no part of government wants to change anything.

      1. Sounds about right. Between BAC testing and checkpoints, it’s pretty clear that neither legislatures nor courts are willing to actually scrutinize these things.

      2. Fuck DUI laws! Damn them all to hell!

  13. >>>Rep. Steve Waldrip (R–Eden)

    idiot. go away.

  14. This law IS too lenient.
    Any person caught being impaired either through, drugs, alcohol or Big Macs deserve immediate decapitation.
    How else is America going to show the world we’re serious about due process and mercy?

  15. FTA: She was driving under the speed limit at the time of the accident, quickly stopped and attempted to aid Brittany, according to the police report.

    At the same time, Sly’s lawyer, Tyler Ayres, noted the alcohol in Brittany’s system at the time of the crash. Though she wasn’t driving, Brittany’s body tested for a blood-alcohol level of 0.21%, more than four times the current legal limit for driving in Utah, 0.05%, and nearly three times the driving limit at the time of the incident, 0.08%.

    “The young lady who died was extremely intoxicated and walking in the middle of a street with a 50 mph speed limit,” Ayres said, noting that the incident has had a dramatic impact on his client as well.

    Driving under the speed limit, immediately rendered aid, the victim was severely impaired and walking in the middle of the road at night. Why is no one else decrying the injustice of a 7-month sentence for this poor woman who it can not be proved did anything wrong? This is a travesty of justice.

    NEVER submit to a blood test before consulting a lawyer.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.