Oregon’s law governing driving under the influence of intoxicants is likely pretty typical. It defines intoxicants as alcohol, controlled substances and inhalants — and leaves it at that. It is a definition that, unfortunately, does not recognize the ability of modern chemists to create intoxicating substances that are none of those three things.
Such drugs as “spice,” “bath salts” and “herbal incense” can impair drivers every bit as effectively as booze or cocaine. According to the National Office of Drug Control Policy, spice is a synthetic marijuana, while bath salts mimic amphetamines. Their ingredients may include plants and chemicals, and they’re illegal in both Oregon and Washington.
Yet in Oregon today it may be illegal to possess spice, but it is not illegal to drive under its influence. That’s true of a whole variety of chemical creations designed to imitate other illegal substances, as well.
State lawmakers no doubt recognized the problem when they created a task force in 2011 to look into the issue. Hearings on the four bills that resulted began Monday.
One of the four, HB 2114, would expand the state’s definition of intoxicants to include synthetic drugs or any other substance that “affects a person’s physical or mental faculties to a noticeable degree.” That presumably includes over-the-counter medications that can have a disorienting effect on some users.
The proposed definition provides a no-nonsense approach to an increasingly large problem. Though bath salts and some other synthetics are now illegal under federal as well as state law, manufacturers have become increasingly adept at changing formulas to skirt current legal definitions.
Oregon’s proposed definition based on symptoms rather than chemical composition gives police the ability to get a group of impaired drivers off the road that might otherwise go free. That, in turn, makes Oregon’s highways safer. It’s difficult to oppose that.