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Marijuana and driving: California lacks legal THC limit

Marijuana and driving: California lacks legal THC limit
Marijuana and driving: California lacks legal THC limit 08:11

It's been seven years since California legalized marijuana for adults. But the state still has no legal limit on how much is too much before you get behind the wheel of a car.

Investigative reporter David Goldstein has the story of one local family advocating for limits after their daughter was killed in a car accident. It's a tragic story the family hopes will help others.

Eighteen states have some kind of limits on the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in your blood before you're considered under the influence of marijuana while driving. THC is the substance in marijuana that makes you high.

But surprisingly, California is not one of the states. And because of that, a local family believes the person responsible for their daughter's death got off with a just slap on the wrist.

Video shows Krystal Kazmark singing in front of her graduating class at Palos Verdes High School in 2013. Seven years later, another video celebrates Krystal's life after the 25-year-old was killed in a car accident. Her mom, dad and brother are left with photo books and memories.

"I love my daughter with all my heart. I will miss her every moment of my life until I take my last breath on this earth," said Mary Kazmark, Krystal's mother.

Krystal was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by her boyfriend, Joshua Daugherty. She was working in Mammoth. The two were riding down a road in the summer of 2020.

The California Highway Patrol accident report says Daugherty claimed he "saw an unknown animal," "jerked the steering wheel" to the left and collided with another vehicle.  The truck was destroyed.  Krystal was killed instantly.

When Krystal's father heard about the accident, he thought of what he says he witnessed with Daugherty's driving.

"I knew that he liked to get stoned. I'd see him in his car getting stoned before he would drive. I saw that, and that's why we talked to Krystal, like 'Look, he's getting high in the car before he goes anywhere.' That's his thing. Stop, get high and then drive. That's nuts," said Craig Kazmark.

Daugherty even admitted using marijuana the day of the accident.  According to a probation report, he said he was "a 'habitual' cannabis user," and disclosed "he had smoked a 'couple of bowls' of cannabis earlier in the day" of the accident -- but he claimed it would not cause him to be impaired.

Investigators concluded Daugherty was untruthful about trying to avoid hitting an animal and was likely under the influence at the time of the crash. He was cited with a felony: murder; and DUI drugs and alcohol causing injuries.

Krystal's mother Mary says she had warned him in the past.

"I even confronted him once when he was smoking and he was going to be driving, and I reminded him that he's got my daughter in the car, and I told him that if he ever did anything that harmed her, I would haunt him, and I'm the one being haunted now," said Mary Kazmark.

Court records show they found 18 nanograms of THC in Daugherty's blood.

According to the National Institutes of Health, THC is the substance that's primarily responsible for the effects of marijuana on a person's mental state.

The 18 nanograms would be well above the legal limits set in 18 states that have marijuana-impaired driving laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures -- including Colorado, which has a limit of 5 nanograms.

"Juries, I think, like to see a number," said Glenn Davis, highway safety manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation. "If you have a high nanogram level, your likelihood of conviction is great"

But unlike other states, California has no legal limits on THC while driving.

Joshua Daugherty was charged with just a misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to one year in jail.

"I think he's getting away with murder. He murdered somebody, he's going to get away with it," said Craig Kazmark.

Investigators also found this is the second time someone in Daugherty's car has died in an accident. The other time was in 2010.

Why not throw the book at him? Mono County Assistant District Attorney Todd Graham says he couldn't do it because there's no law on the books. Even though a CHP drug expert said the "charges should be reconsidered." And so did the Mono County Probation Department, which recommended a felony.

"We looked at this case as 'How are we going to do that?' That's the question. 'How are we going to put that together?'" said Graham.

Graham says without actual legal limits on THC, it wouldn't stick. Even though the California Vehicle Code states: "It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle."

"We would like to see California engage in studies that deal with, At what level are you unsafe to drive regarding marijuana?" said Graham.

But it's not that easy.

"It's very, very dangerous to rely solely upon a THC measurement," said California Assemblyman Tom Lackey, Palmdale (R).

Lackey, a former CHP officer who has seen his share of impaired drivers, says more studies have to be done to see how much THC is too much.

"Impairment is the focus, and relying solely upon a measurement of THC could be inconclusive, and that's what's dangerous about it," said Lackey.

Yale University Professor Godfrey Pearlson is doing studies on THC and driving for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They found that THC stays in your system much longer than alcohol, so a simple limit just wouldn't work.

"We've shown that the impairment of driving behavior lasts a few hours at most, whereas the THC persists in the person's system much, much longer than that," Pearlson tells KCAL News.

The Kazmarks know none of this will bring Krystal back, but they hope her death could help others live.

"If there was a limit, perhaps people would stop and think before they did it, and maybe more lives would be saved," said Mary Kazmark.

Joshua Daugherty, through his attorney, had no comment and declined our request for an interview.

California has earmarked about $2 million this year to study the effects of THC while driving, in the hopes of coming up with some kind of standard.

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