Both Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use on November 6th. What does this mean for DUI laws in those states?
In Washington, voters passed Initiative 502 which legalizes, regulates, and taxes sales of small amounts of recreational marijuana for adults. The initiative also established the THC equivalent of a blood alcohol content standard for marijuana use for purposes of a DUI. A person cannot drive with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content. Now, they also cannot drive with blood level of 5 nanograms of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter of blood in their system.
Colorado passed Amendment 64, finally. The proposed measure has been voted on in Colorado three times in the past and each time it has failed. Colorado, like Washington, established a legal standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in a user’s system.
While some people might be applauding the new laws in these states, several problems still remain.
The first is that, while breathalyzers for detecting blood alcohol levels are commonplace for on-site testing, no such on-site test currently exists for marijuana levels. The second problem is that, although THC levels can be tested with blood, saliva, or urine, levels of intoxication or impairment cannot be tested.
Impairment based on marijuana use is not yet quantifiable. Unlike alcohol, there is not a close correlation between THC content in the blood and impairment. THC is fat-soluble and remains in the user’s system long after the person used marijuana, sometimes days after use. At that point, the person is no longer stoned and their ability to drive a vehicle is no longer impaired, yet under the law, could be arrested for driving under the influence.
It’ll be interesting to see if DUI charges increase in Colorado and Washington once these laws take effect.
Also remember the federal government still considers marijuana use illegal. Only time will tell what the feds will do.