Seattle, WA- Last fall, voters in both Washington State and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Now that people can legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana, legislators in Washington are attempting to establish a legal limit for “green” or marijuana DUI. But their standards are being met with criticism.
Since Dec. 6th when pot became legal, the Seattle Intelligencer reported that police have made 130 arrests for drugged driving, many under the influence of marijuana, while that doesn’t compare to the 1,355 arrests for alcohol-impaired driving, authorities expect “green” DUIs to spike, especially if Initiative 502 passes. One because they have established a legal limit, and two, because police will be specifically be looking for stoned drivers.
When voters decided to make marijuana legal, they also made it clear that there should be laws which prevented drugged driving, but establishing those standards are difficult because there is little research to establish what level of THC in the blood is safe for driving and pro-marijuana groups have been extremely critical of the proposed THC blood level standards.
Initiative 502 seeks to make 5 nanograms of active THC the legal limit. For pot proponents this is too high. According to the I-502 website 5 ng/ mL is an acceptable limit, “Even heavy marijuana users like medical marijuana patients should have their THC levels drop below 5 ng/mL if they wait a few hours before driving.”
Pro-pot groups would however prefer to establish the legal limit to 10 ng/ mL because the drug stays in the body for 24 to 48 hours after the impairment effects of the drug have worn off. Heavy marijuana users, those who use it on a daily basis will always have some THC in their system. Michael Elliot of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group worries the state will be unnecessarily convicting people even when they aren’t actually intoxicated.
There is also conflicting research on if and how severely marijuana impairs driving. The few studies that have been conducted haven’t clearly established that marijuana significantly impairs driving to such a degree that pot users are prone to accidents.
The drug slows down psychomotor skills and reaction times, but according to NORML, well- known weed advocacy group, these effects have not causal relationship to injurious car collisions. Research on closed courses have shown that marijuana users compensate for their impairment, and unlike drunks, don’t participate in risky driving behaviors; they have a tendency to drive slower and leave more space between themselves and other drivers. A 2001 study of 16 drivers under the influence of THC in an urban setting showed no significant impairment. A 1996 NHTSA study concluded, “Marijuana … did not significantly change mean driving performance.”
Regardless of the inconclusiveness of marijuana driving impairment studies, the drug is illegal in numerous states and would prefer it never be legal even though it is a much less dangerous drug than alcohol. The ineffectual War on Drugs has made it certain that countless people are locked up and demonized for consuming marijuana, despite the fact that it is not nearly as detrimental to people’s health and behavior than other drugs and alcohol.
If Washington legislators pass I-502 without adjusting the legal limit to 10ng/ mL many people could be charged without actually being impaired.
“We risk convicting people of an impaired driving infraction when they are not actually impaired,” Michael Elliot of The Medical Marijuana Industry Group told CBS 4 in December, “That is an injustice that is a major problem.”