As of December 6 at 12:01 a.m., marijuana became legal in the state of Washington. This is a major victory for recreational and medical marijuana advocates across the United States. However, while one situation has been seemingly resolved, another has arisen. With the use of marijuana now legal, how will drivers on the road be affected?
Initiative-502 was created as a sort of addendum to the bill that legalized marijuana in Washington, a tag-on that introduces provisions for driving under the influence of marijuana. I-502 has provided a way to test drivers and defined Washington’s legal limit for driving under the influence of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. What is the legal limit? The bill states that you are driving under the influence if you violate the limit of five nanograms of active THC per one milliliter of blood in your system.
Definitive Effects of THC on Drivers
What does five nanograms of THC actually do to a person? It is hard to say. In 1973, a University of British Columbia professor named Dr. Harry Klonoff ran experiments to document what kind of effects driving under the influence of marijuana are actually exhibited. What he found is that smoking pot does impair driving skills, but also that “the effect of marijuana on driving is not uniform for all subjects.” He later goes on to state that some people’s driving skill actually improved after smoking marijuana. Another study done by the Institute of Human Psychopharmacology at the University of Limburg in Maastricht, Netherlands confirms the findings that THC consumption affects all drivers in a very different way.
Consequences of DUI Marijuana
Regardless of how a person is affected, anybody found driving over the legal limit of .05 milligrams in Washington can and will be slapped with consequences that include a 90 day license suspension for first time offenders, and 2 years for a second. Medical marijuana users are concerned, being that they generally have high levels of THC in their systems most of the time. However, <a href=”http://www.npr.org/2012/12/05/166531388/pots-legal-in-washington-state-but-dont-drive-high”>NPR reports</a> that Bob Calkins, the spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, would essentially tell these people not to worry about it. “Regardless of whether this person has been a regular user of marijuana, may have a routine THC level in his blood of this point or that point,” says Calkins, “if he’s driving OK, he’s probably not going to come to our attention.” In that same story, one of Seattle’s top DUI lawyers advises against driving after having consumed marijuana anyway. This attorney advises all of his clients against driving after consuming marijuana, “even if he’s feeling totally fine, because the mere fact of having that level in his blood and driving makes him a criminal.”
The moral of the story is that while using marijuana is legal in Washington, getting caught driving after having consumed any amount can lead to a DUI. With the marijuana laws so new, and other states likely to follow suit, you are sure to variations of these laws springing up with revisions, redactions, and plenty of people fighting them, but there is one thing that’s for sure—laws that seek to define “under the influence of marijuana” are here to stay.
Jessica McDowell is a part-time paralegal and freelance blogger. She loves writing about issues related to criminal law and bail bonds. When she isn’t creating masterpiece recipes out of the vegetables grown from her garden, you can find her curled up with a blanket, reading a book.