Washington was one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use. Over the past few years, many other states across the US have followed suit. This presented a unique challenge to law enforcement: how to enforce laws against driving under the influence of marijuana. Specifically, how to test for the presence of THC (the active ingredient in the plant) when a driver has been placed under arrest for the suspicion of driving under the influence.
Alcohol and marijuana affect the body in significantly different ways. They are also detected in significantly different ways. When an individual consumes alcohol, their blood, breath, and urine may be tested for the presence of alcohol. The presence of alcohol directly corresponds with the volume present in these bodily emissions, and this bears a direct relationship on the level of impairment. This is how legislatures are able to determine a "legal limit" of impairment for commercial and non-commercial drivers based on the blood alcohol content (BAC).
Marijuana, however, is different. An individual can smoke or consume a product containing THC hours (or even days) before something like a blood test and still test positive for metabolites of the drug, despite the fact that he or she would not be completely free from impairment. Therefore, developing a consistent method for testing for the drug is something law enforcement agencies have struggled with. Some states, such as ours, have established "per se" limits on metabolites found in the blood.
The state of Nevada, which legalized recreational marijuana three years ago, is looking to a new method for dealing with impaired drivers. A legislative interim committee has heard testimony from those advocating for the abolishment of the "per se" system, arguing that it could lead regular marijuana users who are not at all impaired at the time of driving, to be prosecuted. They're pointing to research, including a marijuana DUI study conducted last year which argued that a DUI should be based on the results of field sobriety tests rather than a hard-and-fast number. The tests considered best for identifying marijuana impairment are considered a finger to nose test and the modified Romberg balance test (which involves observing whether a suspect is able to stay standing when he or she closes his or her eyes).
The Nevada legislative committee has not come to any decision about marijuana DUI testing at this time but continues to be open to testimony regarding developing a fair assessment for drivers.
Seattle DUI Attorney Steve Karimi
If you're facing charges for driving under the influence of marijuana, alcohol, or any other substance, having an experienced defense attorney in your corner can make a significant impact on the outcome of your case. Former King County prosecutor Steve Karimi has years of experience fiercely advocating for the best outcome for his clients. Call 206-621-8777 or fill out an online contact form today to get started.