Combating marijuana DUI charges may become a larger issue for cannabis consumers as authorities turn their focus to the potential that drivers may be under the psychoactive effects of marijuana. Unlike alcohol, it is much more difficult for police to definitively test for active THC in a driver’s system. THC can linger in consumers’ systems but not be active and creating a high feeling. Consumers would be prudent to become familiar with laws surrounding driving under the influence of marijuana and what they can do to fight charges.
Current Climate of Cannabis and Cars
As legalization picks up steam across multiple states, studies and stats trickle in. Here are key findings:
– Pew Research survey reveals that 57 percent of Americans currently support legalization. That’s a huge leap from 16 percent in 1990. This gap that will increase.
– Columbia University found that drunk drivers are 16 times more likely to get in a fatal accident than drivers who test positive for pot.
– Center for Disease Control says that marijuana users are 25 percent more likely to get in an accident. They stress that factors like age and gender may play a role in higher crash rates.
– Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says collision claim frequency in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon rose by three percent. They say that recreational cannabis is the main culprit behind the increase.
– American Journal of Public Health, on the other hand, found no increase in fatality or crash rates in Colorado and Washington.
It\’s difficult to draw conclusions about the affects of legalization. More studies will paint a clearer picture as recreational cannabis reaches more states. Some current findings seem to contradict each other, perhaps due to study controls and conclusions.
It\’s also not yet clear how weed impacts motor skills. When trying to decide if they’re too high on marijuana to drive, many pot users actually overestimate how impaired they are. This is a key difference from alcohol, where drunk drivers tend to underestimate their intoxication level. Also, The NCBI found that “most marijuana-intoxicated drivers show modest impairments on actual road tests.” A driving simulation by the NIDA shows that stoned drivers suffer slight cognitive difficulties.
Today, states use two approaches to test stoned drivers: per se or effect-based laws. Both tests face criticism. “Neither type of test is accurate because neither is validated to detect marijuana impairment,” says Jolene Forman, staff attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance.
Per Se DUI laws lack science
Here are the biggest criticisms of per se pot laws:
– Not scientifically sound. There aren’t widely accepted levels of impairment for cannabis like alcohol. Heavy users can have illegal amounts of THC in their system without using any pot.
– Doesn\’t account for tolerance. Five nanograms of THC, the legal limit, impacts people differently.
– No consensus. There are various sobriety tests like hair, urine, or blood analysis. Each tests may analyze different cannabis compounds, and they can contradict one another. Standardized tests backed by science are necessary.
– Risk of false positives. Equipment and technology to determine intoxication aren’t foolproof.
Disputing effect-based DUI laws
Some states forego THC threshold tests in favor of effect-based tests. This requires evidence of impaired driving. Courts must also prove that impaired performance was due to cannabis. Like per se laws, effect-based laws come with their fair share of criticism and debate.
When a cop pulls over a suspected drunk driver, they look for visual clues. Slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, decreased motor skills, and the smell of alcohol are some indicators. With the exception of red eyes and a potential smell, stoned drivers don’t give off such clues.
There are several examples of overturned marijuana DUI charges:
– Unscientific nanogram limits: Several drivers have successfully argued that their DUIs were based on inaccurate nanogram levels.
– Faulty impairment recognition: One officer in Georgia made over 90 DUI arrests in 2016. Judges dismissed many charges after
further testing invalidated his findings.
– Medical exceptions: Drivers with medical marijuana authorizations get extra leeway in some states.
– Improper testing: Some police use inappropriate methods to entice a confession. Without proof of impairment, that confession is
Why is it so difficult to properly identify stoned drivers?
We\’re still learning the science behind the psychoactive properties of pot. According to the NCPIP, there are more than 480 natural components in cannabis, 66 of which are unique chemicals known as cannabinoids. They’re divided into the following subclasses:
– Cannabigerols (CBG)
– Cannabichromenes (CBC)
– Cannabidiols (CBD)
– Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC)
– Cannabinol (CBN) and cannabinodiol (CBDL)
– Other cannabinoids (such as cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabielsoin (CBE), and cannabitriol (CBT)
Improving Marijuana DUI Laws
What can lawmakers do to improve marijuana DUI tests? For starters:
– Improve technology: Current testing methods aren’t foolproof. Authorities should study and invest in new tech. Several startups
hope to develop better methods, but their efficacy isn’t yet known.
– Better training: Law enforcement must work to better recognize symptoms of reefer impairment. New equipment should also be
– Understanding cannabis: More marijuana studies are absolutely necessary. Since the plant is illegal on a federal level, research
grants and funding is hard to come by. As legalization becomes common, more studies will unearth new findings.
Marijuana DUI Statistics
There are some studies on stoned driving in legal states. These are their findings:
– Washington Traffic Safety Commission: Studied toxicology reports from 1,773 fatal accidents between 2010 and 2014.
– 60 percent of drivers tested positive for alcohol, pot, or other drugs.
– Eight percent of drivers tested positively for only marijuana.
– In 2014, 84 percent of pot-positive drivers had hydroxy-THC in their system. Of those, about half exceeded the five
nanogram legal limit.
– THC positive drivers were involved in more daytime crashes. Alcohol accidents, on the other hand, frequently occurred in the
– Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation: Examined data from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
– Less than eight percent of DUI citations involved solely weed.
– 12.3 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes tested positive for cannabis. 32.7 percent tested positive for alcohol.
– Total number of cannabis DUIs decreased by 1.3 percent from 2014 to 2015.
These are some of the first marijuana DUI statistics and studies. In reality, there isn\’t much concrete information yet. It\’s difficult to make definitive statements about the impacts of pot after only a few years of legality. Time will reveal more trends and correlations.
What to do if Arrested for Marijuana DUI
Without an accurate measure of THC levels, drivers must simply drive when they feel sober. So, police are more conscious of stoned drivers, and they charge more drivers with marijuana DUIs.
If you are pulled over and arrested for driving high, you automatically consent to take a blood test. You do have the option to refuse the blood test. This requires a hearing with the department of licensing that can result in a long license suspension. Some attorneys recommend taking the blood test, as murky weed DUI laws could work in your favor:
Fighting a Marijuana DUI
Regardless of the specifics of your case, hiring a competent DUI lawyer is a must. They give you a much higher chance of getting a good case result. Not only that, but our research shows that DUI lawyers are always worth the cost.
The newly imposed laws give authorities more ground to charge you with a DUI. That said, you’re also more likely to beat the DUI charge. Lawyers can question the legitimacy of the blood test to see if officers use proper procedure. In most states, only a few labs have approval for blood tests.
What Happens if Convicted of a Marijuana DUI
Weed-related driving laws in many states are ambiguous. This can give you an advantage in court. However, there is still a very real chance you will be convicted of a pot DUI.
A pot DUI carries the same criminal punishment as an alcohol-related DUI. But it can result in greater fines and jail time due to marijuana’s drug classification.
Marijuana use is likely to be scrutinized even more than it is now as more recreational marijuana states come on line in 2018 and into the future. It is funny to think that when marijuana is officially legal is when consumers should consider familiarizing themselves the most with the laws, even more so than when prohibition had a vice grip on the nation. When marijuana was completely illegal, the law was pretty simple; if you are doing anything at all with marijuana, then you are breaking the law. Legal marijuana is more complicated than illegal marijuana.