Now that California has legalized recreational marijuana, law enforcement agencies are playing catch-up in terms of how they would investigate, arrest, and charge individuals who are suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana. While things were more or less straightforward with DUIs involving alcohol, that is not the case with marijuana.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis or marijuana and testing for THC is not as simple and reliable as testing for blood alcohol concentration or BAC. It is far more complex. The first thing to understand is that even in states that have legalized medical or recreational use of marijuana, it is still illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of pot. Driving impaired is against the law, regardless of the drugs involved. However, a lot of people don’t realize how complicated and challenging it can be to chemically test for marijuana intoxication.
How Impairment Is Determined
Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in several states including Colorado, Washington, and of course, California. A number of states with laws allowing medical or recreational use of marijuana also has legislation addressing the issue of driving under the influence. These laws are similar to drunk driving laws in the sense that they give law enforcement officials two methods to determine whether a driver is impaired.
First, officers may use field sobriety tests and observe driver behavior to determine the driver’s level of impairment. Secondly, they may use a blood test to determine the level of intoxication. When it comes to marijuana, several states accept five nanograms of active THC in the blood as the legal limit.
How Reliable Are These Methods?
When it comes to the reliability of these methods to determine impairment, there are several questions. In states such as Colorado, officers receive special training to spot and screen for potential indicators of stoned driving. However, there is the question of whether making an arrest based on pure observation will hold up in court. The officer’s judgment and observation skills may be called to question in such cases.
Most police departments conduct chemical testing to determine marijuana impairment. The blood test checks for the THC level in while blood. If the legal limit (set by California) is exceeded, you’ll face DUI charges. However, screening for THC may not be as reliable as BAC tests, which usually are pretty accurate in showing how much the driver recently drank. Residual THC, however, can remain in your system for weeks or months after marijuana use. Also, there is some level of THC present in a regular user.
Some police departments, including Los Angeles and San Diego, have started using a device known as the Dräger DrugTest 5000 that works like a Breathalyzer. Except, these devices allow police to swab the inside of a driver’s cheek and test the swab onsite for active THC. Results turn up within a few minutes and a positive result would lead to a warrant for a chemical test to identify the precise amount of drugs in the driver’s system. It could take several years until law enforcement gets it right with so-called “weed DUIs.”
Protecting Your Rights
If you have been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana, you need an experienced Southern California DUI defense lawyer on your side, who stays abreast of evolving laws and procedures in this area. DUI investigations involving marijuana can be quite complicated as law enforcement agencies try to figure things out as they go along. The costs and consequences of a DUI, as far as you are concerned, will still be severe. You need a competent and skilled DUI defense attorney on your side looking out for your best interests and protecting your rights every step of the way.