D.C. Marijuana DUI Still Tough To Prove
Starting on New Year’s Day, marijuana retailers in Colorado will begin legally selling the drug for recreational purposes. It will be the first state ever where this will occur, and it’s a rarity even on a global scale.
But along with this new-found progressiveness is a troubling marijuana law pertaining to motorists. It’s the state’s marijuana DUI law, which holds that a person driving with five nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood will be deemed intoxicated and can thus be charged with DUI.
Many medical professionals contend there is not enough evidence to tie this level of THC to impairment. Advocates are continuing to press this issue, though as the deputy director of NORML pointed out in a recent interview, “Marijuana policy has never been driven by science in this country.”
Here in D.C., as in Colorado, it’s illegal to drive while you are impaired by any drug. But unlike impairment by alcohol, authorities have far fewer means by which to prove drug intoxication. While alcohol impairment for drivers is pretty universally accepted as when one has a blood-alcohol level greater than 0.08 percent. This is generally measured through either a breathalyzer test or a blood sample.
Because the body relieves itself of alcohol fairly quickly, the presence of it in high doses is a fair indication of intoxication (though D.C. DUI defense lawyers are adept at finding ways to challenge the methods of testing and the means through which they were procured).
The process by which the body relieves itself of marijuana and other drugs, however, is different. Certain substances can remain in one’s system long after consumption – sometimes a month or more. Particularly in cases where one is a regular user of such substances, the amount of the drugs’ active agents may be stored at high levels in the body. This does not mean that the person is still high days or even hours after consumption.
Still, this new law in Colorado has resulted in an uptick of marijuana DUI arrests, at least in the Denver area, according to local news sites. Some of those cases involve medical marijuana patients who use the drug regularly. Even though arresting officers had noted few if any signs of impairment by these drivers, their THC levels crossed the threshold, and they were subsequently arrested.
With the state now allowing the drug to be used recreationally, we can expect to see many more such cases.
But Colorado’s law is not even the worst. In some states, like Arizona and Oklahoma, there are zero tolerance laws pertaining to drugged driving, meaning if you are caught with any amount of illegal drugs in your system, you can be arrested for DUI.
Sale and possession of marijuana is not legal in D.C. without a prescription, though possession is expected to be decriminalized by council sometime next year. However, the district does not have a law that specifies a THC-level at which a driver is deemed impaired. That means, for now at least, police and prosecutors have to rely on more subjective means of determining impairment. That means the evidence in these cases is less concrete, and it may be easier to have your case pleaded down or even dismissed entirely.
In any case, never assume that you’re better off simply pleading guilty.
If you are facing marijuana DUI charges in D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC at 202-596-5716.