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Tax-And-Regulate Pot Debate: Scott Insists On Saliva Test, Key Lawmakers Say It Doesn't Exist

Marijuana plants
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Key lawmakers say they have no faith in a roadside saliva test to determine driver impairment for marijuana, while Gov. Phil Scott has said that a tax-and-regulate bill needs to include that test provision.

The fate of the tax-and-regulate marijuana legalization bill is uncertain at the Vermont Statehouse. While Gov. Phil Scott is insisting that the bill include a roadside saliva test to determine driver impairment, key lawmakers say no reliable test exists. 

From the beginning of the debate over a bill that would allow for the retail sale and state regulation of marijuana, the governor has said he would support it only if it included three provisions:

  1. Provide additional money for education and prevention programs
  2. Allow towns to prohibit the siting of a retail marijuana store in their community
  3. The need for a roadside saliva test to determine driver impairment

"I think we need some sort of a saliva test at least to detect THC, unless there's something else out there that I'm missing,” said Scott.
Earlier this session, the Senate approved a tax-and-regulate bill but the proposal did not include a roadside saliva test.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears, a sponsor of the legislation, said he could consider adding a saliva test to the bill but he's not at all sure that the full Senate will support this approach.

"I think we need some sort of a saliva test at least to detect THC, unless there's something else out there that I'm missing." — Gov. Phil Scott

One of the reasons that the roadside saliva test lacks support in the Senate is the test itself.

Chloe White, who has been following this issue for the Vermont ACLU, said marijuana can stay in a person's system for weeks after being used. White said that raises a major problem with this test.

"We really don't think that they are useful in this situation,” she said. “All they do is show any sort of presence, which doesn't imply impairment."

Sears said he agrees with White's assessment.

"I don't know why people have gotten so hung up on the saliva test when the test is basically meaningless," he said.

"I don't know why people have gotten so hung up on the saliva test when the test is basically meaningless." — Sen. Dick Sears, Senate Judiciary chair

The House Judiciary Committee is spending a lot of time on the roadside saliva test issue — and like Sears, committee chairwoman Rep. Maxine Grad has no faith in the test.

"Right now it looks like that it has not been scientifically proven as effective,” said Grad. “To start using roadside saliva testing now, I'm not comfortable with that."    

But Grad said it would be possible to put a provision in the bill that calls for a roadside saliva test if and when such a test becomes available. She said the House took this approach last year, "where once saliva testing was actually scientifically proven to be scientifically reliable through the courts, then it could be used," Grad said. "So I don't know if we would look at something like that."

This issue has divided the tax-and-regulate community. Some backers are willing to include a saliva test in order to get the legislation passed, saying it will then be up to the courts to decide if the tests are legal. However other supporters are reluctant to take this approach.

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