With the recent legalization of marijuana in both Washington and Colorado, police are in the process of determining how to enforce DUI laws in light of legislation that could potentially lead to more drivers under the influence of drugs.
Challengers of the Washington initiative (I-502) expressed concern that marijuana users could end up facing “driving under the influence of drugs” (DUID) citations for THC in their blood up to a week after they initially got high. However, according to supporters of I-502 this scenario is extremely unlikely. The New York Times refuted the concerns over Active THC tests falsely incriminating recent users, saying “I haven’t found a single scientific study showing that even the heaviest of pot users would exceed the five-nanogram cutoff after 24 hours.”
Preliminary indications are that enforcement of DUI laws will remain largely unchanged. A statement released by the Seattle Police Department described the process as follows:
“If an officer believes you’re driving under the influence of anything, they will conduct a field sobriety test and may consult with a drug recognition expert. If officers establish probable cause, they will bring you to a precinct and ask your permission to draw your blood for testing. If officers have reason to believe you’re under the influence of something, they can get a warrant for a blood draw from a judge. If you’re in a serious accident, then a blood draw will be mandatory.”
In short, the same rules still apply. Additionally, although the SPD’s FAQ concedes each case stands on its own, it does state, “the smell of pot alone will not be reason to search a vehicle.” Officers will still need to develop probable cause before searching a closed or locked container.
If a person is indeed pulled over under suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana, I-502 mandates that anyone caught operating a vehicle with more than 5 nanograms per milliliter of active THC in their system can be charged with a DUI.
Meanwhile, Colorado’s Amendment 64 makes no changes to the existing state laws when it comes to driving under the influence. According to the amendment, driving under the influence of marijuana or driving while impaired by marijuana will remain strictly enforced. The amendment also allows for the state legislature to develop new driving related policies as it sees fit.
For both states, the legalization of marijuana is far from a done deal. With marijuana still considered illegal on a federal level, many of the specifics are likely to be decided in court. In the meantime, pot smokers should continue to use good judgment when it comes to staying off the road, because when it comes to DUI enforcement the rules remain unchanged.
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