David Ballard, a Milton resident, continues to contest a Vermont Department of Health recommendation that his driver’s license not be reinstated due to a driving offense in November that initially resulted in a 90-day suspension. Ballard has since filed a civil complaint against the Health Department as a result of the decision.
Ballard, who suffers from ALS, a degenerative nerve disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, smokes cannabis twice daily, early in the morning and late in the evening, to relieve symptoms associated with the disease. He contends that his choice to smoke at those times does not impair his driving in any way, but does help to regulate sleep and manage the chronic pain associated with the disease. “I didn’t want to take narcotics,” Ballard said. “I didn’t want to be hooked on them.”
Ballard, a former fitness trainer, was pulled over in November under suspicion of impaired driving and underwent a roadside sobriety test. His blood-alcohol content registered 0.083, just above Vermont’s legal limit of 0.08 percent. As a result, he was charged with driving under the influence and his license was suspended for a 90-day period. Vermont Department of Health also noted that Ballard had a mild cannabis “disorder” and seems uninterested in discontinuing his twice daily use, making him a potential safety hazard on the road.
Ballard subsequently completed a required number of alcohol awareness classes, as well as compulsory therapy sessions at the Howard Center. His therapist, Barbara J. Mayhew-Belatski, concluded that Ballard was low risk in terms of future alcohol impairment. But when asked about that in relation to cannabis, Mayhew-Belatski said that she was not able to draw that same conclusion.
Based on Mayhew-Belatski’s report, the Department of Motor Vehicles opted not to reinstate Ballard’s license. On September 5th, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the alcohol and drug abuse programs at the Department of Health, upheld Mayhew-Belatski and the Howard Center’s opinion of Ballard’s cannabis “disorder,” citing the need for more information.
When Judge Robert Mello asked Ballard during his trial in Chittenden Superior Court if the Howard Center hinted at any additional or subsequent treatment, Ballard simply said, “They did not.” Mello noted that legal precedents for marijuana are ambiguous, especially in terms of road-safe levels of THC, the primary psychoactive component found in the cannabis.