The Basics of a Marijuana DUI
The laws of each state, as well as the country as a whole, can change rapidly. One area of developing law concerns movements in various states to legalize recreational marijuana use. Eight states have already legalized or have recently chosen to legalize recreational marijuana use while medicinal marijuana is legal in many others. Considering the growing trend of legalized recreational use, state and local law enforcement officials across the country must establish new regulations governing the recreational use of marijuana if they have not yet done so. One area where lawmakers and law enforcement officials will have to focus efforts is in creating an appropriate set of legal guidelines governing the use of marijuana and operation of a vehicle. Presumably, the charge in most states will be referred to as driving under the influence of drugs (“DUI-D”), as it is in Colorado. Similar to a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol (“DUI”), consequences for conviction can be severe.
Basics of Marijuana DUIs
While it is currently legal to consume marijuana recreationally, it is not legal to operate a vehicle after doing so. It does not matter if a person smokes marijuana, ingests it, or uses it in some other way as the effects of marijuana are considered to impair a person’s ability to drive safely. Colorado has selected a limit of five nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”). THC is the active ingredient in marijuana mostly responsible for the “high” people feel after using marijuana. If an individual’s blood contains more than five nanograms of THC, they are considered to be under the influence for the purposes of operating a motor vehicle.
Generally, the first stage of determining whether or not an individual has been operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana occurs when a law enforcement official suspects such use based on an individual’s driving, behavior during a traffic stop or simply the odor of burnt marijuana. In such cases, the law enforcement official may call upon a drug recognition expert (“DRE”) – if they have not personally been trained as one – who will administer a drug recognition evaluation. Drug tests have shown an increased figure over the last few years. In Colorado, this evaluation is voluntary and is used to gather more evidence for potential prosecution. If you are suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana, or of any drug in Colorado, you will be subjected to a blood test that will screen for marijuana and other potentially impairing substances in your system. You must submit to this blood test under Colorado’s express consent law that requires drivers to submit to chemical testing if law enforcement officials have reasonable belief that you have been operating a vehicle while under the influence or while impaired to the slightest degree due to drugs, alcohol or a combination of both. Most states have similar laws, and refusing to submit to chemical testing often results in a longer revocation of driving privileges simply for refusing to submit to a test. If law enforcement officials, as a result of various tests and evaluations, believe that you have been operating a vehicle under the influence or while impaired by marijuana, you will be arrested and likely receive a summons to appear in court.
Issues with Marijuana DUIs
While states like Colorado have adopted a specified limit for the amount of THC that can be found in a person’s blood for that person to be considered impaired, experts have warned that these limits may be less reliable in determining an individual’s impairment as a result of using marijuana. One common critique of blood tests used to determine the amount of THC present in an individual’s system is that such tests can pick up metabolites of THC present in an individual’s blood once impairing effects of the drug have worn off. Additionally, decades of research have allowed states to develop blood alcohol concentration levels applicable to the general population – but doing so for marijuana may prove more difficult. Researchers and critics of current marijuana impairment laws point out that marijuana can affect individuals in vastly different ways, especially when chronic marijuana users are compared to occasional or first-time marijuana users. New and more reliable testing mechanisms are being researched and developed, but are not yet widely available.
Legal Assistance with Marijuana DUIs
Given the severe consequences that can result from a conviction for driving under the influence of drugs and the potential for less reliable results in determining impairment, it is essential that individuals facing these charges work closely with a criminal defense attorney that understands the various nuances of drugged driving impairment laws and has experience handling these types of cases. If you are facing these types of charges in Colorado or have general questions about how criminal defense attorneys handle such charges in Colorado, contact the drugged driving criminal defense team at Tiftickjian Law Firm to schedule a consultation where you can find out more about these charges as well as what options might be available to you in your defense against them.
Written by Denver DUI Attorney Jay Tiftickjian. Jay Tiftickjian is a trial lawyer, author, and legal analyst.