More and more states are legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes. Marijuana was first legalized in California in 1996 and now the medicinal use of marijuana is legal in 23 states. Four states currently allow the recreational use of marijuana. Currently, in the upcoming fall election, 3 states will vote to legalize the drug with 8 more states considering legislation because there is an evolving and more liberal view among voters and legislatures. Despite being illegal in the United States for nearly 80 years, the attitudes and stigma surrounding marijuana are changing. The country is seeing possession of marijuana decriminalized as marijuana laws are becoming broader and more lenient. As the growing popularity of marijuana continues to rise, there is a growing concern about marijuana users getting behind the wheel and driving.
The AAA foundation, founded in 1947, is dedicated to saving lives by preventing traffic crashes and reducing injuries when crashes occur. As part of their mission, when the state of Washington legalized marijuana, AAA examined the fatalities associated with drivers who had recently used marijuana. The study found that the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had recently used marijuana more than doubled between 2013 and 2014.
More and more drivers are being convicted of DUIs as a result of driving under the influence of marijuana. Some states have set specific legal limits for the amount of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that makes one “high,” that a driver may have in their system when driving. Similar to testing drivers suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, the law uses two different methods to prosecute drivers impaired by marijuana. These include 1) observation of impairment of the driver, assessing performance on varying field tests, or Drug Recognition Expert assessments; and 2) testing the driver’s blood alcohol level.
However, there is a problem when it comes to determining whether someone is too impaired by marijuana to drive; according to the CEO of AAA, the approach to determining a driver’s impairment under the influence of marijuana is flawed. Further, it seems that the detection of DUIs are based on arbitrary standards instead of the type of empirical evidence used to prosecute alcohol related DUIs, theoretically resulting in unsafe motorists being set free and safe motorists being wrongfully convicted.
The problem with trying to tie a DUI conviction to the use of marijuana is that THC can remain in a user’s system for weeks at a time. Furthermore, developing a method in which to test the impairment of an individual is complex and difficult to accomplish. This is so as (1) there is no reputable science that reliably shows that drivers become impaired at any specific THC level, (2) THC levels may drop below the legal limit level before law enforcement is able to get a blood sample, and (3) marijuana affects everyone differently.
There is a push for a more comprehensive and accurate testing system for testing drivers under the influence of marijuana. These tests would not rely on preset numerical limits, but on a multiple prong test. The test would look for any recent ingestion of marijuana as well as looking for various behaviors based on physiological evidence that the driver is too impaired to drive. In addition, this system would rely on specialized training of officers in recognition of impaired drivers. Two such training programs are Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and Drug-Evaluation and Classification (DEC) program.
Marijuana popularity is going to keep growing and it seems states are going to keep legalizing it and their laws will become more lenient. Despite the shaky scientific evidence, law enforcement will continue to cite drivers for DUIs based on the standards they currently have to work with. Because of this, if a person is cited for a DUI as a result of driving under the influence of marijuana, it is critical to contact experienced lawyers who know the constantly evolving marijuana laws and understand the inherent problems in those laws.
1Stebbins Sam, Frohlich C Thomas. USA Today. 11 States Least Likely to Legalize Marijuana. 2016
3 CBS SF Bay Area. AAA Calls For Scrapping Marijuana DUI Tests. 2016 CBS Local Media
4 Stebbins Sam, Frohlich C Thomas. USA Today. 11 States Least Likely to Legalize Marijuana. 2016
5 Governing the States and Localities. State Marijuana Laws Map. http://www.governing.com/gov-data/state-marijuana-laws-map-medical-recreational.html
6Banta-Green C, Rowhani-Rahbar A, Ebel B, et al. Cannabis Use among Drivers Suspected of Driving Under the Influence or involved in Collisions: Analyses of Washington State Patrol Data. May 2016
9 CBS SF Bay Area. AAA Calls For Scrapping Marijuana DUI Tests. 2016 CBS Local Media
10 Banta-Green C, Rowhani-Rahbar A, Ebel B, et al. Cannabis Use among Drivers Suspected of Driving Under the Influence or involved in Collisions: Analyses of Washington State Patrol Data. May 2016
12 Green Michael. Fatal Road Crashes Involving Marijuana Double After state Legalizes Drug, May 10, 2016
14CBS SF Bay Area. AAA Calls For Scrapping Marijuana DUI Tests. 2016 CBS Local Media
15 Green Michael. Fatal Road Crashes Involving Marijuana Double After state Legalizes Drug, May 10, 2016