Now that marijuana has been legalized in Colorado and Washington, and more states are sure to follow, the government and police forces have been preparing for the rise in “drugging and driving.” Washington State launched an ad campaign that coincided with the opening of marijuana retail stores in July of this year — “Drive High, get a DUI.”
While it’s clear that operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs poses a danger to the public, there is a concern by federal lawmakers that methods of testing for marijuana aren’t up to date, posing a problem for law enforcement. Another dilemma seems to be that there is no federal benchmark for THC, the mind-altering ingredient found in Cannabis, because in the federal government’s eyes, marijuana is still illegal. States that have legalized marijuana have implemented their own benchmarks. For example, Washington has a set limit of “delta-9″ THC levels at greater than or equal to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.
The science behind testing for marijuana intoxication and driving is hazy. There is no device like a breathalyzer to determine THC levels unlike with liquor, therefore pinpointing impairment levels is inaccurate. Also, the impairment is so vast and variable from person to person. One person may get high on 3 nanograms of THC and it may not affect another at all. Another hitch is that THC stays in your system for days. Even an occasional user will retain THC in their system for 4-10 days.
In both Colorado and Washington, police are getting special training, a 9 day Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) course, to detect high drivers, who are sometimes hard to identify. High motorists tend to compensate by driving slower and increasing effort therefore the effects on their performance appear relatively small. Some users can evendrive proficiently with a high dosage of THC in their system.
DUI patrols have increased in Washington and Colorado since the legalization of marijuana and there have been more DUI arrests. This is probably because, since legalization, they are testing more people for THC levels. In Washington, a driver may be charged with DUI if he or she is found to be driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You can receive penalties from both the court and the Department of Licensing — fines up to $5,000, driver’s license suspension for 90 days to two years, and possible jail time. If you’re convicted, the penalties may be worse.
Next time you decide to get high and consider getting behind the wheel, think long and hard about it first. DUI patrols have been expanded, and penalties are stiff. Plus, the impairment of your motor functions and thought processes could result in you injuring or killing yourself or another. Better to be safe than sorry.