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Marijuana is Legal Now in Washington – Let the Controversy, Debates and Arrests Begin

On Behalf of | Apr 22, 2016 | DUI

Washington has been in the foreground of marijuana legalization. It was one of the first states to legalize its medical use and then its recreational use. As you walk through the cities of our state it can be noticed that it has definitely become socially acceptable. Due to this legalization and social acceptance arrests involving marijuana have understandably declined. Although it’s technically illegal you can see people smoking it openly and the police do not seem to regularly enforce this illegality. Plus now there are shops that sell marijuana. It would probably be an exaggeration to say there is a marijuana store on every block but it sometimes does feel that way. As long as you have the proper license you will not get arrested for marijuana selling. As long as you buy from an authorized dealer you will not get arrested simply for buying or using.

But there is one marijuana related arrest that is actually on the rise. Because marijuana does cause impairment it is still illegal to use it and drive and you can be arrested for DUI. The legal limit for marijuana is five nanograms of active THC in the blood within two hours of driving and the penalties for a marijuana involved DUI are the same as if the DUI involved alcohol. These arrests, unlike the others, are increasing. In fact they have almost doubled.

The reasons behind this increase are hotly debated. Most of those in law enforcement, at least those issuing the arrests, claim that it is due to more drivers driving while high because of the legalization. There are others who claim that it is due to the 5 ng limit that has now been placed. This limit was introduced as part of legalization. The prosecution used to have to prove that a marijuana user was actually impaired before they could get a conviction for a DUI (At the time, all marijuana use was illegal so other charges would likely be leveled).  Now all they need to do is demonstrate that a driver had 5 ng of THC in their bloodstream.

There are some interesting facts about that limit. When the alcohol limit was placed it was due to scientific studies that had demonstrated that a person with a BAC of .08 will be impaired. There have been absolutely no studies to establish the same fact about 5 ng of THC.  In some ways,  there actually seem to have been studies proving the opposite. This is due to the fact that marijuana metabolizes in the body quite differently from alcohol. Plus it seems to differ from person to person.  Additionally, THC stays in the bloodstream longer than alcohol and the length of time it stays active also seems to differ from person to person up to days. Lastly,  it has now been determined that the high or intoxication of marijuana will actually wear off before the THC stops being active.

What does all this mean? It means that an infrequent user or beginner might be intoxicated even before they reach 5 ng. It means a frequent user may not be intoxicated until they are well above a level of 5 ng. It means that someone may have 5 ng of THC in their bloodstream and yet be long past any intoxication and therefore would not be driving impaired. It means that they may not have been intoxicated for days.

All of this together all points to a debatable conclusion that the 5 ng limit was placed arbitrarily without any basis in scientific study. This is being hotly argued by many groups; of course the opposite opinion is also being fiercely argued. However the debate on this issue currently seems to be limited to biased interest groups. Of course that is where debates start. It will eventually lead to public debate.  What does this mean? It means that eventually the law may change. Of course it also means that eventually the law will become more solidly backed by the public and unquestioned just like the .08 limit.

And whhat does this mean to you? If you are currently facing a marijuana related charge this discussion is rather academic.  You will be held to the current, existing 5 ng standard.  Therefore,  you need a Tacoma / Pierce County DUI defense attorney.  Call or e-mail the law office of Smith & White, PLLC – your expert case analysis awaits you.