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Under the influence, but not impaired

A new police report shows off-duty Nevada Highway Patrol Sgt. Edward Lattin had more marijuana in his system than state law permits when he triggered a three-car crash that left one person dead last month.

Lattin, 46, who supervises a team that investigates fatal crashes, volunteered to undergo a blood test at the scene of the crash and as a result was arrested Tuesday on one felony count of drug-related driving under the influence resulting in death. He remained in the Clark County Detention Center Wednesday night with bail set at $50,000.

The June 11 accident near Rainbow Boulevard and Hacienda Avenue claimed the life of 49-year-old Ying Warren.

Comparisons to the case of stripper Jessica Williams, who fell asleep at the wheel in March 2000, mowing down and killing six teenagers sentenced for minor infractions to pick up trash in the median of Interstate 15, are unavoidable.

Williams, who used Ecstacy 10 hours before the crash and smoked marijuana two hours before the accident, is serving 18 to 48 years in prison for driving with prohibited substances in her blood, even though her jury determined she was not impaired at the time of the crash.

The county authorities who allowed those teens to be placed in jeopardy along that highway faced no punishment whatever. Taxpayers covered their liabilities.

Lattin had two to five times the legally permitted amounts of THC in his system at the time of the more recent crash, depending on how the active agent from marijuana is measured. “All we can say is that he was under the influence, but it doesn’t mean he was impaired,” says Metropolitan Police Department Deputy Chief for the Special Operations Division Joe Lombardo.

Lattin, who was not arrested at the site of his crash, remains on paid administrative leave.

Robert Langford, a local defense attorney who represents those charged with marijuana offenses, speculates Lattin would probably not have volunteered for a blood test if he had recently ingested pot — the highway patrolman may not have realized tests can show drug residue from use up to 30 days in the past.

Will Lattin now get kid glove treatment, compared to what befell Jessica Williams — who was certainly not sent home from the crash site to await developments? The sergeant’s bail has already been set at a quite manageable $50,000 — while Wiliams’ was set at $5 million.

If the sergeant is indeed found culpable and faces some punishment of less than 18 years in prison, Jessica Williams’ punishment should be commuted to match the highway patrolman’s.

Or do we have different standards of justice in Nevada for cops than we do for strippers?

The law that sent Jessica Williams away even though she was found not to be impaired — known as “Porter’s law” because it was sponsored by then-state senator, now U.S. Rep. Jon Porter — is absurd, says Neal Levine, who managed the 2006 initiative campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Nevada.

“The current Nevada law sends people to prison for a crime they didn’t actually commit, which is vehicular homicide,” he says.

Mr. Levine is correct. Of course no one who causes a death through negligence or misbehavior should walk away without paying some penalty. But that penalty should be proportional to the misbehavior. Enhanced penalties for driving while impaired make sense, but should be limited to what might reasonably be expected to lead an impaired driver to say, “Whoa, I can barely walk — call me a cab.”

Filling our prisons with drivers who consumed some regulated substance in the past, but who cannot be proven impaired at the time of their accident, is to extend the already counterproductive “War on Drugs” to the point of insanity.

Yes, punish them for causing accidental deaths, if they’re found culpable. But only for that — their actual crime.

Extra, vindictive punishment for Lattin because he may have consumed a cannabis product at some time in the past month is wrong. Hideously wrong, no matter what his line of work.

Just as wrong as it was for Ms. Williams.

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