Nevada lawmaker leads push for higher drug thresholds

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- After facing defeat earlier this year, Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani is leading a new drive to raise thresholds in the state's drug impairment law.

At issue is a state law making it illegal for drivers to have certain levels of prohibited substances such as marijuana and cocaine in their systems.

Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, contends the law is unfair because it does not require proof that the driver was actually impaired by drugs.

Allowable levels of drugs listed in the statute were arbitrarily set by the 1999 Legislature and are so low that impairment would be unlikely in many cases, she added.

"I found nothing in the testimony to show a justification for it," Giunchigliani told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The law is being challenged by drivers involved in three separate fatal accidents -- one in Las Vegas that left six dead and two in Reno that killed three.

The drivers claim the marijuana in their systems was not a factor in the accidents. Two Reno drivers say they had smoked pot the day before, so they could not have been impaired by the drug.

Under laws in eight other states, the mere presence of certain drugs is enough for a conviction. Nevada's law is different in that it sets allowable amounts for certain drugs.

For marijuana, it's illegal to drive with 2 or more nanograms per mililiter of THC in the blood and 10 or more nanograms per mililiter of THC in the urine.

Under the law, prosecutors do not have to prove that the driver was impaired by the drugs.

Giunchigliani earlier this year co-sponsored a bill that would have raised the allowable amounts of marijuana, but it failed to make it out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Clark County prosecutor Bob Graham said he set the drug levels in the legislation passed by the 1999 Legislature.

To establish the levels, he said, he referred to federal guidelines for monitoring pilots, train engineers and commercial truckers.

While they were set just high enough to avoid false positives, Graham did not seek studies to show at what level a person would be impaired, he said.

"That's not a good way to make law," Giunchigliani said, adding she plans to bring the bill back at the next session in 2005.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., who sponsored the legislation while a state senator, said too many drivers on drugs are causing fatal crashes.

"The intent (of the law) was to make sure that if someone was driving under the influence of a controlled substance, they would be held responsible for the loss of life," he said.


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