By Michael Knodt on June 26th, 2017 at 3:02 pm
Germany maintains some of the strictest cannabis DUI rules in the world. The low limit of 1 nanogram (ng) THC/ml blood serum, as well as the measurement of non-psychoactive metabolites, means that drivers and cyclists who are otherwise not under the influence of marijuana could potentially have their driving licenses revoked due to minuscule traces of THC.
While in other countries the limit value is determined in whole blood, in Germany, it is measured in the blood serum which approximately doubles the value*. In order to change this non-scientific approach and the unequal treatment of cannabis and alcohol, the German Hemp Association (DHV) launched a “Clear Head Clear Rules” campaign at the Federal press conference in Berlin this month.
Non-treatment of cannabis and alcohol consumption
The often long-term loss of a driver’s license due to cannabis use is ruining livelihoods in Germany. The uneven treatment of cannabis and alcohol consumption leads to serious consequences for consumers as well as society. Former taxpayers are forced to receive state welfare after losing their job or even their business due to the confiscation of their driver’s license. In many cases, the “offender” was not driving under the influence or endangering public safety. Germany’s regulations send a message about cannabis use itself. DUI-law experts like Theo Pütz call it a “substitute criminal law” as the excessive measures began almost simultaneously with the decriminalization of possession for self-consumption in the mid-1990s. Initially, only Southern Germany focused on cannabis-related DUI offenses. Today, drivers find large-scale traffic checkpoints at regular intervals all over Germany to ensure traffic safety. These checkpoints prove necessary when targeting drivers who operate their vehicle under the direct influence of psychoactive substances. But while an alcohol limit of 0.05% only punishes direct intoxication, 1ng of THC in the blood serum can be found even days past consumption. In these cases, the current THC limits do not distinguish between a driver under the influence at the moment of being pulled over and a driver who consumed cannabis days before the traffic violation.
Generally speaking, DUI offense penalties are the same for cannabis and alcohol across the globe. In Germany, a positive blood test incurs an 800 Euro fine and a month-long driving ban for first-time offenders. However, cannabis DUI offenders usually receive a letter a few months after their fine has been paid. In the context of an administrative law, the recipient is told to relinquish their driver’s license to the authorities until the recipient has proactively proven not to be addicted to cannabis.
In addition to the fine and the four-week driving ban, an offender can have their driver’s license revoked indefinitely. The process to reclaim one’s driver’s license is arduous, time-consuming, and costly. The verification measures can cost up to several thousand Euros. After long abstinence tests, specialist reports, and medical-psychological examinations by traffic psychologists and medical doctors, an offender’s driver’s license can still be withheld if they do not pledge lifelong cannabis abstinence. Holders of foreign driving licenses who exceed the THC limit are fined and banned from German roads. German authorities are not allowed to revoke a foreign driving license, but in order to drive in Germany, foreign DUI offenders must undergo the same process as German citizens.
Cannabis patients have a special exception
For cannabis patients in possession of a valid prescription, the 1ng limit doesn’t apply in the same way. Like consumers of other prescription narcotics, they are expected to refrain from driving under the direct influence of their medication. It is recommended that patients new to cannabis therapy refrain from driving for a six-week period to develop the required tolerance for THC. In principle, the treating physician is encouraged to alert their patients to the dangers of any respective drug in road traffic and make a corresponding recommendation. However, due to the relatively new cannabis law in Germany, there are still individual patients who, despite medical prescription, must face serious difficulties when interacting with poorly informed clerks at the driving licensing authority.
A precise THC limit is to be scientifically evaluated
The German Hemp Association is keen to draw attention to the considerable administrative disparities when it comes to alcohol and cannabis when driving. Cannabis users can be denied their driving privileges when very occasional consumption is detected. The pedagogical effect of the statutory penalties laid down by the law is undermined by the fact that penalties which are significantly harsher are imposed on an administrative level.
Therefore, the German Hemp Association is calling for the introduction of safety-relevant THC limits, analogous to the risk-adjusted alcohol limit values. The campaign itself does not demand a specific, numerical limit because such limits should be defined by experts utilizing evidence-based research. However, the Hemp Association refers to other countries in which the current limit values are not politically motivated but are the result of scientific research. In Switzerland, the applied tolerance is 3ng / ml in the blood serum. This value is binding for taxi and bus drivers. Other EU countries have defined risk limits for THC which are up to 6ng/ml in the blood serum, while many states have not defined any values at all. In U.S. states such as Colorado, which have legalized cannabis, a value of 5 ng/ml blood is common, which in German interpretation would be 10ng in the blood serum. During a German press conference, campaign co-initiator Sebastian Gather, a criminal and administrative law attorney, said “The state has to face an open visor and only regulate what it claims to regulate,” in a hope to add clarity and transparency to cannabis regulations. He concluded that “The punishment of cannabis users is justified through the back door by misdemeanors and administrative offenses.”
As part of the campaign, animated explanatory videos along with videos of traffic and criminal law experts and affected parties will be produced continuously and published on the campaign page www.klarerkopf-klareregeln.de.
*1 ng in the blood serum corresponds to approximately 0.5 ng in whole blood.