Marijuana Legalization Complicates Road Safety and DWI Laws

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Marijuana smoker

With the legalization of marijuana in the United States on the rise, states cannot agree on the best way to keep our roads safe. Drunk driving is much easier to regulate. Police often rely on the Breathalyzer, which can be administered on the roadside, to accurately determine a driver’s blood alcohol content. Alcohol is also much more predictable than marijuana in terms of how the body processes it. Therefore, it holds true for most people that their judgment and functioning is significantly impaired past the legal BAC limit of 0.08 percent.

This is not the case for marijuana. First of all, levels of THC—the psychoactive chemical in marijuana—cannot be detected with a Breathalyzer as can alcohol. In fact, the best measure of THC is through a blood sample, which must be taken at a hospital. To make matters even more difficult, the U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that the police are required to get a warrant before ordering a blood test for a DUI. Law enforcement in Los Angeles is hopeful that a new saliva swab test issued on the roadside could accurately detect whether or not a driver has drugs in his or her system, but this test is only in the experimental phase.

Even if the oral swab proves effective, and if a blood sample is taken and yields positive THC results, there is still the question of how much THC is too much. Washington and Colorado are the only two states to date to fully legalize marijuana. In an effort to curb “stoned” driving, these two states have set a legal limit of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Easy solution, right?

Wrong. Five nanograms means something different for everyone. Unlike alcohol, each person metabolizes marijuana at a different rate. For example, someone who gets high all the time builds up a certain amount of tolerance for the drug, whereas someone who rarely gets high is more affected by smaller amounts. Therefore, an experienced user could have much greater control of his cognitive functioning than a first-time user after smoking the same amount. In addition, THC is stored in fat content and released into the body long after the initial high has passed. This means that a sober person can still test positive for THC.

All of these things combine to make controlling stoned driving quite the difficult task. However, as states continue to legalize marijuana recreationally and medically, the drug will continue to make its presence known on our nation’s roads. It is your responsibility to know the drug laws in your state and to know your personal history and tolerance of marijuana. If you are impaired, whether by drugs, alcohol, fatigue, etc., please act responsibly and stay off the roads. If you have been involved in a car accident due to impairment of any kind, or if you have been charged with a DWI, contact an experienced DWI attorney right away.



Photo Credit: miss.libertine via Compfight cc

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By George Vourvoulias

George is a founding member and managing member of Harmon, Smith & Vourvoulias L.L.C., a New Orleans law firm. George concentrates his practice in maritime personal injury, construction litigation, personal injury, workers' compensation, medical malpractice, and DUI defense. George Vourvoulias's Google+ Profile