photo: Tamara Netzel
It was a Saturday, and Jeff Krajnak was taking his 6 year old son to Shadow Ridge Fossil Farm, then to McDonald’s. His son loves dinosaurs, so this was a special father and son trip. But, on their way home, they were in a traffic accident. Jeff’s black jeep collided with a silver Nissan. Jeff and his son were not injured, but the crash resulted in the death of the other driver, who was not wearing a seatbelt.
Officers performed three roadside sobriety tests on Jeff. He passed all three. Officers later testified in court he was not impaired at the time of the crash. He cooperated with the officer’s questioning at the scene when asked if he was taking any medications. Jeff answered honestly that he was a registered Nevada medical marijuana patient and takes it at night to help with PTSD and pain symptoms resulting from a traumatic brain injury while he was deployed in Iraq.
He served our country as an E6 petty officer 1st class Seabee in the U.S. Navy and deployed multiple times including combat deployments to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. He suffered a traumatic brain injury from an improvised explosive device which hit his squad in Iraq disabling him and ending his 15-year military career. He moved his family to Las Vegas, Nevada and registered as a medical marijuana patient because the 11 pills the VA hospital physicians were giving him made things worse.
Jeff had previously spent time in a treatment center for suicide ideation. VA doctors tried to help him by giving him the pills, but the pills led to side effects of suicidal thoughts. The Veteran’s Administration in 2013 published a statistic which stated that 22 veterans commit suicide on a daily basis.
Many veterans are finding medical marijuana helps them, but the VA is not allowed to recommend it due the current Schedule 1 status making it illegal on the Federal level regardless of state laws. Nevada has had medical marijuana available to registered patients since 2000 through ballot initiative and adult-use was legalized in 2017, also by ballot initiative.
Jeff and his son were asked to go get checked at the hospital and he thought that would be a good idea. The doctor repeated sobriety tests again and Jeff passed these. At the hospital, he was informed that the other driver did not survive the accident. He was emotionally upset and broke down.
“It was a nightmare for me. When you’re told something like that, your head is all over the place. I felt horrible that somebody lost their life,” he said. Court documents revealed that the probable cause for the blood test he then was asked to take was his eyes being red. However, he had been crying because of the loss of life thus making his eyes red.
After the blood test, Jeff and his son were released from the hospital. It wasn’t until 32 days later that law enforcement in full tactical gear came to Jeff’s house and forcefully arrested him even though he has no prior criminal record. They slammed him up against a wall while security cameras recorded the scene.
Nevada criminalizes driving with 2 ng/ml of THC in a person’s system under per se law. Two nanograms/ml is so low almost any amount of marijuana use can result in a conviction. Jeff had tested with 4.3 ng/ml of active THC in his blood even though he hadn’t taken any marijuana for over 20 hours. Marijuana is both legal for adult use and medicinal use in Nevada. The 2 ng/ml limit law was written before this was true and it’s not based on current science of what makes a person impaired with marijuana. Daily marijuana users, like medical marijuana patients, will have a much higher level of detected THC in their system, sometimes up to 30 days after stopping marijuana without showing any signs of impairment.
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report to Congress from July 2017, “…the consistent finding is that the level of THC in the blood and the degree of impairment do not appear to be closely related. Peak impairment does not occur when THC concentration in the blood is at or near peak levels. Peak THC level can occur when low impairment is measured, and high impairment can be measured when THC level is low. Thus, in contrast to the situation with alcohol, someone can show little or no impairment at a THC level at which someone else may show a greater degree of impairment.”
Originally, Jeff was charged with child endangerment along with reckless driving and DUI, but he had to hire a private investigator to convince prosecutors that he was not at fault for the accident. The investigation determined that the other driver ran the red light. Jeff ended up taking a plea deal dropping the child endangerment charge and receiving 5 years supervised probation pleading guilty to the remaining charges. If he didn’t take the plea, he’d be faced with 6 years of prison and everything was already taking a toll on his family and their finances.
The per se laws put medical marijuana patients in a legal gray area. It means automatic conviction just by driving. In 2013 a bill in Nevada was proposed to exempt medical marijuana patients from per se laws, but it stalled because of opposition from DUI advocates.
Jeff is forced to go back on the pills to manage his PTSD now because medical marijuana is legal medicine in Nevada as long as you are not charged with a crime.
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