Auto accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that a new bill has recently passed through the Colorado House that will make it easier for law enforcement officials to convict people who drive after smoking marijuana. This is the fourth time in three years the state’s House has endorsed proposals to crack down on stoned driving.
Colorado, along with Washington State, legalized the recreational use of marijuana in late 2012, becoming the first states in the union to do so. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Now that the law is official in Colorado and Washington, politicians are scrambling to figure out how to keep state roads safe from drivers under the influence of marijuana. Neither state’s new marijuana laws included DUI provisions.
Police are concerned that there will be a significant increase in drivers operating vehicles while impaired, and are looking at Washington’s new laws to figure out how to deal with this issue. The Colorado legislation, House Bill 1114, will make driving with more than five nanograms of THC in the bloodstream illegal, rendering drivers subject to a DUI arrest. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the high.
The three previous bills the House attempted to pass made this five nanogram limit “per se,” meaning that testing above this would lead to an automatic conviction. This proved troublesome, as marijuana advocates argued that, like prescription pills, some people who use marijuana everyday may not actually be impaired with five nanogram levels. Patients who use marijuana for medical uses, for example, frequently have five nanograms of THC in their blood at any given time, and would therefore lose their driving privileges under the per se law. The new bill makes this limit a “permissive inference,” meaning that the driver would be subject to a jury and be able to refute the charge.
Testing for THC is done through a blood draw, and, like drunken driving, police would need to have a probable cause to stop drivers and test. Anyone who refuses to have their blood drawn could have their license revoked. Two amendments were recently passed that would make it illegal for police to use a medical marijuana license as a probable cause for the test or as evidence of impaired driving.
The bill now requires a second recorded House vote before it can be heard in the Senate. The fundamental issue in this marijuana DUI debate is whether or not driving capabilities are actually impaired under the influence of marijuana. Many are saying that impairment levels are not as clear-cut as they are with alcohol. In 2012, Senator Pat Steadman (D-Denver) stated that complications arise because THC is fat-soluble; so, depending on the individual, blood levels could remain above five nanograms for several days after that person last smoked. The individual may not appear or feel impaired, but blood tests would conclude that they were under the new law.
This fact was illuminated in 2011 when a reporter, William Breathes, smoked
pot before going to bed. More than 15 hours after his smoking session,
Breathes had his THC blood levels tested, which showed he had THC concentrations
nearly three times higher than the proposed legal limit.
New training programs across the country are also cracking down on prescription drug impairment while driving. Several states, however, do not require blood tests at the time of the DUI arrest to quantify the individual’s drug levels. In response, many states are starting to conduct quantitative tests for certain prescriptions, such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan. As a result, the number of drivers being arrested for prescriptions DUIs is steadily increasing, even without the added alcohol.
Car accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge Americans to stay up-to-date on your state’s DUI laws, which are constantly shifting and evolving. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in an accident caused by an impaired driver, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.