NPR just published a relatively detailed story on how difficult it is to enforce DUI (driving under the influence) laws for those under the influence of marijuana. Like the rest of the nation, the state of Colorado has seen a sharp increase in marijuana DUI arrests. So far, State Patrol data illustrates that the number of citations rose from 316 in 2015 to 398 this year.
Colorado’s marijuana DUI law is modeled on the one for alcohol, which sets a number for blood-alcohol levels to determine when someone is too intoxicated to drive. For pot, that number is five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. That means it is illegal to drive if you have anything over that level. However, according to the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, measuring a person’s THC is actually a poor indicator of intoxication. This is because unlike alcohol, THC gets stored in your fat cells, and is not water-soluble like alcohol. As a result, one can still test positive for THC even a week after consumption. This is something defense attorneys all too easily point out.
As far as policy implications, scientists at UCSD say that what cops really need is a simple roadside sobriety test.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in California
Aside from normal DUIs, California is one of the many states that have a specific statute that addresses driving while under the influence of marijuana. See CA Vehicle Code 23152(e). One is considered “under the influence” of marijuana if, as a result of consumption, his or her mental and physical abilities are impaired so that he or she cannot drive like a sober person.
The tricky thing with driving while under the influence of marijuana is that there is no “per se” amount of THC in the bloodstream that can easily establish impairment unlike alcohol (.08%). Chemical tests still cannot accurately reveal how much THC one has consumed, or how recently. As a result, police will have to look to other factors, such as: your driving pattern, physical appearance, statements to police, and your performance on field sobriety tests.
If convicted of a marijuana DUI, one may face probation for three to five years, and six months in jail. You will also face extensive fines and a suspension of your driver’s license. If someone is injured or killed as a result of the impaired driving, then one may be facing a felony charge punishable by state imprisonment and a suspension of a driver’s licenses for a year. Continue reading