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Bill seeks test for pot impairment while driving

By By MATT GOURAS

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Lawmakers on Thursday were considering a renewed effort to test drivers suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana — a measure law enforcement agents said is necessary to deal with an increase in such cases.

Republican Rep. Doc Moore of Missoula said his House Bill 168 provides a legal limit for the amount of THC — an ingredient of marijuana — that can be in a person's blood while operating a motor vehicle.

He argued the measure is just aimed at enduring streets are safe, not at the debate over medical marijuana.

"No one of us has the right to take a chemical, alcohol or anything and drive impaired," he told the House Judiciary Committee. "We need to set some standards and level to protect the citizens of Montana."

There was no immediate action on the proposal, which died the last time the Legislature met in 2011. House Judiciary Committee chairman Kreyton Kerns said he needs to see scientific proof this time around that there is a connection between THC levels and impairment.

"This bill died last time because we were getting the Legislature ahead of the science," Kerns told backers of the bill. "I am going to need to see that science."

Sarah Braseth, a forensic toxicologist at the state crime lab, acknowledged there is still controversy about marijuana impairment.

The state crime lab already tests blood samples in drunk driving and other cases for levels of THC. County attorneys and others argued it is time to use the information and set a threshold of impairment for pot just as there is with alcohol.

Kurt Sager, drug recognition expert coordinator with the Montana Highway Patrol, said DUI cases have remained steady in recent years while cases of drug-impaired driving are way up. He said the proposal bill doesn't target medical marijuana users, only those who choose to drive impaired.

Marijuana advocates countered that testing is unreliable and measures agents that don't cause intoxication but remain in the blood stream long after impairment.

"This law will make criminals out of people who are not driving impaired," said Rose Habib, who runs a cannabis testing lab for the medical marijuana industry.

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