After cannabis legalization Drivers should be allowed to have more THC in their bodies

Symbolic image: A man sits at the wheel of a car with a joint between his fingers. (Source: dpa/Karl-Josef Hildenbrand)

dpa/Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Audio: rbb24 Inforadio | 06.06.2024 | Angela Ulrich, Kristine Lütke | Image: dpa/Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

More than a tiny amount of THC in the body can lead to points, fines and driving bans on the road. The problem for occasional smokers: the body stores THC for a long time. The federal government now wants to react to this.

    Cannabis users can still have THC in their bodies days after a high

    The federal government therefore wants to introduce a higher THC limit in road traffic

    Mixed consumption with alcohol should be more strictly regulated

    Accident researcher calls for rapid THC tests for drivers

Since April 1st, adults have been able to smoke weed legally – but for drivers, cannabis consumption is associated with risks even when sober. Anyone who is stopped with the smallest amount of THC in their blood can expect high fines, points on their license and a driving ban. It should be clear to everyone that driving a car shortly after smoking weed is prohibited. But because the cannabis ingredient THC can still be detected in the blood long after the high, from a legal perspective, smoking a joint makes smokers unfit to drive for days.

A low value of 1 nanogram per milliliter of blood has been established in case law. Now the federal government wants to set a higher limit by law: only those who drive with 3.5 nanograms or more risk a fine of 500 euros and a one-month driving ban. The Bundestag could vote on the plan on Thursday.

“Traffic safety impact not unlikely”

The federal government had previously spent weeks discussing the limit value within the framework of an expert commission. The recommendation of the scientific experts [pdf] sounds a little complicated: At 3.5 nanograms of THC, “an effect relevant to road safety” when driving is “not unlikely” – but “well below the threshold at which a general risk of accident begins”. The impairment corresponds roughly to that of 0.2 per mille alcohol. Highly sensitive saliva tests are required for control.

It is clear to the FDP’s drug policy spokeswoman in the Bundestag, Kristine Lütke, that driving while actively intoxicated “should not happen”. She is in favor of a 3.5 limit, but confirms the objection of critics that cannabis is broken down differently than alcohol.

According to Lütke, the degradation products of cannabis can be detected for a long time. She points out that “occasional users” could get into trouble at a traffic check several days after consumption if the 1 nanogram value continues to apply. Lütke would even like to see a limit slightly above 3.5.

Smoking weed with unclear “dose-effect relationship”

The ADAC also considers the 3.5 limit to be plausible. “There is no evidence so far that the interests of road safety are compromised by this,” the statement says. However, it is important not to give the wrong impression. The key point is the so-called dose-effect relationship, which exists when drinking alcohol but not when smoking weed.

In other words, drinkers can understand how strong their drink is and what amount of it is likely to make them unfit to drive. When smoking weed, this is harder to estimate in advance, partly because the exact THC content in cannabis products is often not apparent and is broken down at different rates by consumers. “It is not possible to ‘get close to’ a limit,” writes the ADAC. Therefore, the following applies unequivocally: “If you drive, don’t smoke weed!”

The German Police Union warned that the proposed THC limit was a step in the wrong direction. The current limit of 1 nanogram was moderate and highly valid. “In order to increase road safety, an adjustment of the alcohol limits would have been necessary.”

Traffic police vote: Legalization could lead to increase in fatalities

In order to punish risky “mixed consumption” more strictly, alcohol consumption should be banned – and a higher fine of 1,000 euros should be imposed on cannabis consumption. In addition, a cannabis ban should apply during the probationary period after obtaining a driver’s license and for those under 21, as with alcohol. Sanction: usually one point and 250 euros.

In a traffic police vote [pdf] The Federal Government’s expert group on the THC limit states that it is to be expected “that in addition to a generally increased number of road users influenced by cannabis in the future, the number of road users with mixed intoxication will also increase.” The so-called mixed consumption is unpredictable in its interaction, even in small quantities. “We therefore expressly welcome the recommendation of an unconditional ban on the mixed consumption of cannabis and alcohol.” At the same time, the authors argue for a general ban on THC in road traffic: “Legalization can […] as found in evaluations from Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, nevertheless lead to an increase in the number of fatalities in traffic accidents.”

GDV calls for adjustment in terms of mixed consumption

The German Insurance Association (GDV) is calling for a change of plan in view of possible mixed consumption. The government’s current draft would allow people to continue to have up to 0.5 per mille alcohol and up to 3.5 nanograms of THC in their blood. However, as soon as alcohol is consumed, a zero tolerance limit must apply to cannabis – and vice versa.

Kristin Zeidler, head of accident research for insurers (UDV), explained in an interview with rbb|24 that it has been proven that mixed consumption, even in small quantities, can still have a detrimental effect on driving once the THC high has worn off. That is why it is important to adjust the passage in the draft law again.

Zeidler spoke out in favor of actually monitoring compliance with the THC limit among road users. However, monitoring options are not only useful for the security authorities, but also for users. “There must be highly sensitive saliva tests that users can use to determine whether they are allowed to get behind the wheel.” In addition, the population needs to be more widely informed about the possible risks of cannabis consumption before driving a vehicle. “Many people do not know what effects THC can have on driving ability even a long time after consumption,” said Zeidler. “Politicians urgently need to provide more information about this.”

Broadcast: rbb24 Inforadio, 06.06.2024, 07:05 a.m.