As we've previously noted, the recent legalization of small amounts of marijuana in Washington and Colorado has set off quite a reaction across the country, and in the state itself. Now, state officials are trying to determine how to keep stoned drivers of the road.
While Colorado's measure didn't make any changes to the state's DUI laws, Washington's law does. In particular, the Washington measure sets a new blood-test limit for marijuana. Now, police will have to be trained to enforce that limit, and defense attorneys are will find opportunity in this for work.
Because marijuana is new, it will take time to figure out how courts and prosecutors are going to handle it. Unlike with alcohol, there is no easily available way to determine whether someone is impaired from recent marijuana use. Marijuana can cause dizziness, delayed reaction time, and the tendency to swerve in drivers they are high, and officers will be looking for these types of behaviors as evidence.
As of now, there is no consensus about the standard rate for THC impairment, and the legal standard will be impairment, both for alcohol and marijuana. Despite the lack of consensus, Washington's new law does seta THC limit 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. That is roughly equivalent, some say, to the current .08 limit for alcohol.
So, under the law, police would have to observe signs of impaired driving before pulling somebody over. Blood tests would be taken by medical professionals, and those with a result above 5 nanograms would automatically subject a driver to a DUI conviction.
In our next post, we'll look at some of the reasons the THC limit is opposed, and what marijuana users should know about the measure going forward.
Source: The Seattle Times, "With pot legal, police worry about road safety," Kristen Wyatt & Gene Johnson, November 15, 2012