The recent legalization of marijuana is effecting potential changes to driving laws in the State of Washington.  Particularly, the DUI laws of Washington are getting a rethink.  As more states make medical and recreational marijuana use legal, they are determining what constitutes DUI while affected by marijuana.  This is important because after alcohol, marijuana use is the second leading substance that impairs drivers.    

Currently, there are two main ways DUI for marijuana is investigated and prosecuted.  First, there are observations made by an officer during a roadside stop.  Many officers are trained to look for bloodshot eyes, confusion and lack of focus, unusual talkative persons, leafy substances in one’s mouth and in the car, and dilated pupils.  However, all police officers are not the same when it comes to detection of marijuana or other drug use.

To address drug DUI, police departments many times have officers that have specialized training to make observations for possible drug use.  These officers are called Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) officers.  They can make observations to detect if a person is under the influence of certain categories of drugs such as Cannabis, Depressants, Stimulants, Hallucinogens, Anesthetics, etc.

The second way DUI for marijuana is prosecuted is through a blood test.  Washington State has a per se law when it comes to marijuana DUI.  If you have a certain level of THC in your blood, you are DUI per se.  This is very much like the breath alcohol tests where if you are 0.08 or over above you are considered an impaired driver and will be prosecuted for DUI.  The DUI and per se THC level in Washington is 5 ng/ml of blood.

However, the consumption of marijuana creates physical effects that vary from person to person.  And THC levels can depend on how cannabis is ingested and whether a person is a long-term user.  In light of this, more studies are been conducted to help states determine the per se limit.  Some experts suggest the level should be higher than 5 ng/ml of blood.  Instead, many advocate that the per se level should be 13.1 ng/ml of blood.  This may help alleviate the concern of many that lower THC per se levels could lead to the DUI convictions for persons who were not impaired by THC but only had THC in their system because they are recreational users or use marijuana as medicine.

It appears more studies need to be conducted in the future.  This area will continue to be debated as more states legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Jeff Burleson is a DUI attorney.  If you have any questions about drug or DUI offenses or you are facing criminal charges in Kitsap, King, Pierce or another county, please contact Jeff Burleson for a free consultation.

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