Target 11 Investigates driving on medical marijuana in Pennsylvania

Target 11 Investigates driving on medical marijuana in Pennsylvania

A Pittsburgh woman is facing driving under the influence charges after investigators suspected she was part of that deadly overdose on the Southside last fall.

Beth Repp, of Mt. Oliver, told Target 11 she passed out while driving near the intersection of 6th Street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard on the afternoon of Sept. 22, 2019. Earlier that same day, three people died of drug overdoses on the Southside. Repp said paramedics suspected she had overdosed on opioids so they gave her Narcan.

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They took her by ambulance to the hospital, where she said Doctors administered Narcan again. She awoke and told them she doesn’t do heroin or cocaine. She has a card for medical marijuana and she had some the night before.

“I’m like, ‘What do you mean I had a drug overdose?’ Like, this doesn’t happen. I don’t do drugs like that. I don’t do opioids...Because I had that pink bracelet on and they thought it might have been the same drugs that those rave kids were on,” said Repp.

The hospital took a blood sample and police charged her with DUI. Target 11 obtained a copy of the police report and officers wrote, "Repp was suffering from an overdose...completely unconscious, suffering from agonal breathing and having the pink wristband (due to the overdoses the morning of.)

A month later, the blood work came back and she had traces of THC in her system but that’s it.

"That’s consistent with having used cannabis many hours beforehand. but most certainly is not consistent with recent use and most certainly could not have caused her to pass out, " said defense attorney Patrick Nightingale, who lobbied for medical marijuana and also supports legalizing recreational use.

In Pennsylvania, Nightingale said, just traces of THC even with a medical marijuana card can result in a DUI.

He said drivers are basically playing Russian roulette.

“We have over 200,000 patients registered (with medical marijuana cards ) in Pennsylvania right now and every single one of us is DUI 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year if we’re using medical cannabis under Pa. law,” said Nightingale, who’s working with the legislature in an effort to change the driving laws. He argues that police should have to prove impairment just like in cases involving alcohol. Bills are currently sitting in the House and Senate that would do just that, but Nightingale said there’s been no movement.

Earle asked Democratic state Rep. Dan Miller of Mt. Lebanon about this apparent contradiction.

"There are a lot of contradictions. It would be great if the federal government would help us by rescheduling marijuana cannabis and allowing us to take the other steps that can come from that, " said Miller, who also indicated that he would like to see a hearing on the topic in the judiciary committee.

Repp is still fighting the charges. She no longer has a driver’s license after her doctors discovered that she has epilepsy and that’s what caused her to pass out back in September.

She said prosecutors advised her to plead guilty to Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, a program for first-time offenders in whichb the record is cleaned if the defendant satisfies court-mandated requirements.

Repp said she should not have to plead guilty.

“They are looking at me like I’m a drug addict or an alcoholic, and keep saying to me well that’s not pleading guilty. It’s not an admission of guilt. Yes, it is an admission of guilt when i have done nothing wrong,” said Repp.

Allegheny County District Attorney spokesperson Mike Manko provided the following statement to Channel 11:

“The circumstances surrounding this particular case are important because there still needs to be education for the residents of the commonwealth concerning medical marijuana and medical marijuana cards. That said, any prescription for any medication does not permit an individual to operate a motor vehicle if they are impaired by that medication.”

Chris Togneri, the public information officer for the City of Pittsburgh Public Safety Department, provided the following statement regarding the crash and investigation:

“Police responded to a single vehicle crash at the corner of 6th Street and Ft. Duquesne Blvd. around 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 22. Officers located a female driver with no passengers who appeared to be overdosing. After administering Narcan, medics transported her to a local hospital, where she was administered a second dose of Narcan. She regained consciousness and said she had attended an event the previous night where she might have eaten something to cause her to pass out. Blood tests showed marijuana in her system. The female was charged via summons with DUI. The investigation is ongoing.”


Resources:

Pittsburgh police officer who tested positive for medical marijuana remains on paid leave