Since the battle over legal pot began, opponents have pointed to traffic safety concerns as one of their primary reasons for opposing legalization. In keeping with that pattern, a recent study funded by the federal government concludes that legal pot is causing a startling increase in marijuana-related traffic fatalities. However, the study’s methodology is open to criticism for failing to account for an overall decrease in traffic fatalities since 2008. The suggestive use of the phrase “marijuana-related” is also subject to the criticism that the mere presence of THC in a driver’s system does not mean that this is the cause of the accident.
Both the study itself, and the political agenda behind it, betray a deeper problem underlying attempts to regulate marijuana and driving. Namely, establishing causation is difficult because no consensus exists as to what it means to drive under the influence of marijuana. Outside of Colorado and Washington (the two states where pot is legal), there are no legal “per se” limits as with blood alcohol concentrations. While these states have agreed on a limit of 5 ng/ml, the law is still in a state of flux. Until other states have weighed in with their own limits, there is no consensus.
Even here in Colorado where such limits exist, the scientific reliability of these numbers are subject to widely known criticisms. The most notable difficulty is that THC remains in the system for a long period of time after intoxication subsides, particularly in those who smoke pot regularly. For this reason it can be difficult to state with scientific precision that an individual was intoxicated, even if the levels detected in their blood satisfy the per se limit.
What are per se limits?
A per se limit is a concentration of a substance in a person’s blood stream that establishes a legal presumption of intoxication. For instance, the most common such presumption is the well-known 0.08% BAC (blood alcohol concentration) limit that establishes a presumption of driving under the influence of alcohol in all 50 states. While this presumption is rebuttable in individual cases, it is generally agreed that in most instances, this figure adequately predicts a level of intoxication that impairs driving performance.
However, due to decades of prohibition combined with a federal monopoly on studies of the subject, no such consensus appears with respect to presumptive levels of intoxication due to cannabis use. Throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, most of the studies on the subject were funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and focused on establishing that cannabis use impaired driving. Few if any, until recently, have attempted to determine with precision at what levels impairment set in.
Colorado, as one of the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, currently has a per se limit of .05 ng/ml for THC. This is in keeping with the emerging consensus of the studies that attempted to establish such a limit. However, many studies are ongoing and the law in Colorado is subject to change—possibly in the near future.
Always Exercise Caution
If you exercise your right to use cannabis recreationally in Colorado, prudence dictates that you should also exercise caution at all times while driving—and never drive if you are currently feeling the effects of cannabis use. Under current law, it is still possible for frequent users to be arrested and charged with DUI even if at the time of driving they were not in fact under the influence. This is partially due to the state of scientific research, which is not yet able to distinguish between long-term residual presence of THC in heavy marijuana smokers and actual intoxication at the moment of the test. This means that even if you are not high at the time of driving, a heavy pot smoker potentially still risks being arrested for drugged driving every time they behind the wheel, with consequences such as:
- Driver’s license suspension,
- Jail time,
- Community service, and
Consult a Colorado Defense Attorney if Arrested for DUID
If you are arrested for drugged driving in Colorado, you need the help of experienced trial lawyers who will fight for you. Contact the law offices of Denver DUI attorney Jay Tiftickjian today. We will fight to protect your rights. Our attorneys know how to challenge the presumption that you were intoxicated while driving, using state of the art scientific techniques. Our attorneys are on the cutting edge of the ever-shifting legal landscape of drugged driving law. When your liberty, your career, and your reputation are on the line, you can’t afford to do without the best possible legal representation.