If in most cases establishing whether someone has been driving under the influence of alcohol or not is a straightforward thing, in the case of marijuana things become rather unclear. However, there are several states in the U.S. where you can get sanctioned if you are caught driving while under the influence of marijuana.
Still, the limits are nearly impossible to establish and there is no conclusive test yet that can determine with absolute certainty if one has been driving under the influence of marijuana. While there are states that have entirely legalized the use of marijuana, both for recreational and medicinal use, in most states the use of it can bring severe punishment under the laws of the respective state.
In the United States, both recreational and medical marijuana is legal in Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. Curiously enough, in D.C. the purchase of marijuana is still not legal. 20 other states have also legalized the use of marijuana, but only for medical purposes. These are: Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Arizona, Connecticut, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Michigan, Montana, Minnesota, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania.
Even though this doesn’t mean that the use of marijuana is legal under federal law, there are steps taken in that direction by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), an organization that is fighting to end the marijuana prohibition and have the same rules apply as in the case of alcohol consumption. The organization hopes to legalize recreational marijuana use in 10 states and for medical purposes in 6 other, by the end of this year.
DUI Limits for Marijuana
A recent study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that it is almost impossible to determine when someone who has consumed marijuana and drove a vehicle is considered to have been driving under the influence, which would endanger his/her life and the life of others. The impossibility of establishing a clear limit stems from the fact that there is no breathalyzer that can determine the amount of marijuana consumed and how much it has affected the driver, and researchers also claim that blood tests in this case are not useful.
In the case of alcohol consumption, there is a limit of 0,08% of blood alcohol concentration that makes a person unfit to drive a vehicle. This is called a “per se” violation, which means that once you are found with at least this amount of blood alcohol concentration, you are automatically breaking the law. In the case of marijuana, the laws differ according to the state laws.
In California for instance, there is no such “per se” violation, so no matter the concentration of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in your blood, it is not considered illegal. However, you can be charged based on your driving conduct and demeanor, your statements, an odor of marijuana in the car, or the presence of it. Also, if you fail a field sobriety tests (FST), you can be charged as well. In Colorado and Washington on the other hand, if you are found with 5 nanograms of active THC in your blood, you have to take a blood test and you are in danger of being convicted.
However, the blood tests are not as useful as they cannot establish when exactly you used the drug, how much you consumed, or how impaired you are as a consequence of it.
But how long does marijuana stay in your system? The substance that is found in marijuana, THC, can stay in your system for days at a time without any clear signs of it. More than that, if you consume marijuana on a regular basis, the substance can even stay in your system for up to 30 days. And when the substance is detected, the problem that there is no universal level of impairment still remains. This depends on each individual person, as a certain amount of THC in the blood can make a person high while another one can still be sober.
There is the possibility of a urine test, but this is even less reliable than a blood test, as it does not reveal the active THC ingredient, but inactive metabolites such as THC carboxylic acid. Saliva tests are also used in countries such as Australia, but taking such tests on the side of the road is not really effective, as the samples of saliva can degrade until taken to the lab for testing.
The AAA declared that even though it would be desirable to find an exact limit in the consumption of marijuana (as in the use of alcohol) where a driver can be considered impaired, scientific research does not allow it based solely on the quantity of marijuana in the user’s body.
The solution they propose is to have a number of police officers trained for this specific purpose according to Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) standards. After the training, the officers would be certified as drug recognition experts (DRE).
What Constitutes Driving?
Believe it or not, driving under the influence does not only mean actually driving your car on the road. Most states consider a DUI even if the person was not physically driving the car. In this case, the judge takes into account a variety of factors, including whether the car was on or off, moving or not, operable or not, or whether the driver was awake or asleep.
The punishments that a person driving under the influence of marijuana can expect are from 96 hours up to 6 months in jail, a fine of $390 up to $1000, a suspension of the driver’s license of 6 months, a probation of 3 up to 5 years, and participation in a drug education class for 3 months – for the first offence cases. The penalties increase according to the number of DUIs that a person already has, or depending on whether or not they have caused any accidents.
Summing It All Up
The topic of marijuana and DUIs is a quite controversial one and there is no standard law that can apply when it comes to convicting people who are caught driving under the influence, because there is no standard test that can definitely tell what constitutes being impaired in this case.
The rules are different according to state laws, but with the increasing legalization of marijuana either for medical or recreational purposes, most people seem to agree that we need a system of measurement of impaired driving similar to the one used for alcohol consumption.