Has Vermont found a way to test for marijuana use?

Published: Feb. 15, 2018 at 4:51 PM EST
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With the legalization of marijuana on the state's horizon, the House is looking at a new way to crack down on drivers impaired by pot. The bill would allow law enforcement to collect saliva during a stop with a controversial roadside test. It was expected to hit the House floor Thursday but was diverted to the Judiciary Committee instead. A sign, perhaps, of the challenges the bill faces ahead.

"It's controversial. There's no doubt about that," said Rep. Pat Brennan, R-Colchester.

House Transportation Committee Chair Patrick Brennan is talking about a saliva test. A new bill would use something like an HIV test to collect saliva to determine if a driver is high on pot.

"It helps them make an informed decision whether they carry the investigation a little further and take it to the station for a DRE or a blood test," Brennan said.

Saliva can show the presence of THC, the chemical in pot that causes impairment, but it doesn't indicate whether someone is actually impaired.

"Saying that someone has any level of THC in their system is not the same as saying someone is impaired," said Chloe White of the ACLU of Vermont.

White says the test is invasive and probably violates the state Constitution.

"We think this could have some implications for Article 11," she said.

State Defender General Matthew Valerio agrees. He says Vermont's Constitution goes further than other states and the U.S. Constitution in requiring warrants for searches or seizures.

"Vermont's Constitution is more protective than the United States Constitution when it comes to warrantless searches," Valerio said.

Valerio and the ACLU say court challenges are likely if it passes.

"We would certainly look at every opportunity to challenge it," White said.

Brennan, meanwhile, thinks the bill will survive legal challenges.

"I think so. I hope so," he said. "With the testimony we heard in here, I think it would pass muster."

Saliva testing is supported by the governor and law enforcement, but the legislation faces hurdles in the Senate.

Right now, someone pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving can refuse a roadside sobriety test. And that would also be true with the THC test.