Over the past twenty years more and more states have legalized marijuana, first for medical use and then later for recreational use. The first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes was California in 1996, followed later by an additional twenty-two states and the District of Columbia. In addition, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Washington is among those states, having passed a ballot measure legalizing marijuana in 2012.
Legalizing marijuana for recreational use presents myriad new legal issues for law enforcement officials to contend with. Among those issues is how to detect when a person is driving under the influence of marijuana. In Washington, drivers cannot be operating vehicles with a THC level of 5 nanograms or higher. The trouble for law enforcement comes with detecting the levels of THC in a driver's system.
Currently, law enforcement officials in Washington use the standard field sobriety tests to determine if a driver is impaired by marijuana. To determine actual THC levels in drivers suspected of being high, officers must get a warrant for a blood draw. Across the country, new methods are being developed to detect THC in a driver quickly, as opposed to waiting weeks for test results to come back from the crime lab. One such example is a breathalyzer-type device in development at Washington State University by chemistry professor Herb Hill. This device is similar to the breathalyzer device used by police to determine if a driver is drunk.
Professor Hill conducted tests in spring of 2015 on 30 people. The participants, who were paid minimum wage, bought their own marijuana and smoked it at home. They then blew into the device. The device uses ion mobile spectrometry technology, which is also used in airports to detect explosives. Hill's team is modifying the technology to detect THC.
It will likely be a couple of years before the marijuana breathalyzer may be used in Washington on a regular basis. Lieutenant Robert Sharpe of the Washington State Police stated the device would need to be "highly accurate" before it could be adopted. Sharpe is the head of the impaired driving section of the Washington State Police. Other tests are being developed as well including cheek swabs, saliva tests, an eye scanner, and a skin sweat test.
With more and more states heading towards legalization, developing quick detection methods to measure the level of THC in a person's system are going to be incredibly valuable to law enforcement officials.
Driving impaired is never a good idea. In Washington getting a Marijuana DUI can have serious consequences such as losing your license, fines, and jail time. If you or a loved one are facing DUI charges, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Steve Karimi today for a free consultation.