Despite the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of Washington, the lines for what constitutes a DUI may remain somewhat fuzzy. Although the state’s new law says a driver is considered legally impaired if he or she has 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, simply being under the limit may not be enough for drivers who “seem impaired.” For drivers testing under the legal limit but still suspected of driving under the influence, a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) can be called in to run the driver through an additional series of tests.
For drivers with THC levels well under the 5 nanograms per milliliter limit, the state’s new law doesn’t instantly mean they’re immune from getting slapped with a DUI charge. One driver was convicted of a DUI homicide after a passenger in his car was killed while he was driving under the influence of marijuana. At the time of the accident his THC level was just 1.6 nanograms per milliliter, less than one third of the stated legal limit. He’s currently serving a 16-year prison sentence.
What this means for Washington residents is that the new law might not be as cut and dry as initially thought.
According to King County prosecutor Amy Freedheim, when it comes to marijuana, “there is no safe amount to drive on.” One of Washington’s DREs also expressed concern that the recent legalization of marijuana could lead to an increase in people driving while under the influence, stating, “You go from zero legality to full legality, people are going to make some bad judgments. Regrettably they’re gonna put themselves behind the wheel and regrettably we’ve got to arrest them.”
Unlike alcohol, which is fairly straight forward, the Lab Manager at the Washington State Toxicology Laboratory explains that determining whether someone is impaired from marijuana use can be a bit tricky, saying “You don’t know the dose of marijuana that they used. You don’t know how much they used. You don’t know the potency of the marijuana that was used.” So, although the new law offers a guideline for what won’t be tolerated, the bar is actually set much lower and on a case by case basis.
As always, good judgment is crucial, and any amount of alcohol or marijuana should make would-be drivers think twice before stepping behind the wheel. The current legal limit for THC is merely a starting point, but just because a driver is fairly certain they’re under the limit doesn’t mean they’re off the hook in the event of a crash.