The recent decisions by Colorado and Washington voters to legalize the recreational use and possession of marijuana has led to a host of new issues for law enforcement authorities in the two states. Cops have had to adjust to a new way of interacting with those in possession of marijuana, even having to retrain drug dogs to prevent them from sniffing out pot. One area that has been especially difficult for citizens and law enforcement officials is the murky topic of marijuana-impaired driving.
One of the biggest issues that lawmakers and law enforcement officials have had to contend with is how to marry the recent marijuana legalization law with existing laws restricting impaired driving. Police officers say that since the new marijuana laws were put in place they’ve seen a rise in first time marijuana users who get high and then get in trouble behind the wheel given that they are unsure of how the drug might impact them.
These drivers, dubbed “green DUIs,” have risen dramatically in the time since legalization occurred. One reason is that officers say with legalization, drivers have become much more willing to admit to smoking marijuana if they are pulled over for a traffic violation. Officers probe into drug use with questions such as the last time they smoked and how much they consumed, and drivers often unwittingly reveal enough information to justify an officer performing a field sobriety test or even seeking a blood draw to determine the level of impairment.
In Washington and Colorado, courts have said that warrants are needed to justify the blood draws, something that can be time consuming for officers. However, law enforcement officials note that the probable cause needed to justify the warrants is usually easily supplied by the drivers themselves who openly discuss marijuana usage.
Numbers collected from across Washington reveal that since legalization occurred there have been more blood draws than ever before. Additionally, more of the tests have been coming back positive for the presence of THC, the active chemical found in marijuana. According to surveys, nearly 27 percent of blood tests conducted by law enforcement agencies in Washington this past year revealed detectable amounts of THC. Prior to this year that number hovered around 20 percent, a significant jump in less than 12 months.
The question that has divided many in Washington and Colorado is whether marijuana poses the same kinds of dangers to drivers that alcohol does. Marijuana activists vehemently argue that the drug does not endanger innocent motorists or seriously impair a driver’s ability to safely operate his or her vehicle. Law enforcement officials argue the opposite; saying that THC is a powerful substance that can lead to dangerously impaired driving.
In an attempt to satisfy both groups, lawmakers in Washington came up with a precise level that would need to be shown to prove marijuana impaired driving. The law says that drivers must not exceed 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Above this amount qualifies as impaired driving, something that can be punished just as severely as drunk driving. Criminal defense attorneys have said that the law is not based on science and instead targets regular consumers of marijuana who might easily build up blood levels of THC higher than 5 nanograms. Given that the legislature in Washington shows no sign of increasing this level it appears marijuana users in the state might have to content with pressure from overly concerned police officers looking for some way to crack down on use of the drug.
Arrested for Drugs DWI in Minneapolis, Minnesota?
It is extremely important to contact a MN DWI attorney, if you have been recently charged with driving under the influence of drugs. In Minnesota, unless a controlled substance I or II, the prosecutor must prove that you were actually under the influence of drugs in order for there to be a DUI conviction. For instance, with marijuana, it is not enough that marijuana was found in your system for it to result in a DWI criminal conviction, it must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the marijuana impaired the driver’s ability to drive the motor vehicle. For more information, contact Douglas T. Kans and his defense team.
Source: “There May Be A Green Light For Pot, But Not For Driving High,” by Martin Kaste, published at Minnesota.PublicRadio.org.