Many states are either considering or have already implemented a legal threshold for marijuana intoxication while behind the wheel.
Several states have posed that anyone who tests positive for 0.05 nanograms of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in their blood stream should be considered intoxicated. Eleven states have enacted some type of drugged driving law since 1990.
Another five states, including Michigan, assert that any driver with any amount of THC in their system should be considered intoxicated.
Our Alabama marijuana DUI defense lawyers know that these kinds of arbitrary limits are not only inaccurate, they aren’t helpful when the ultimate goal is to reduce the risk of impaired drivers and ultimately drive down DUI injuries and deaths.
Instead, drivers who are not at all impaired end up being arrested. They may have consumed the drug days or even weeks ago and still test positive for it. While the psychoactive effects will last only a few hours at most, the drug will remain in their system for much longer.
That’s why a recent state Supreme Court decision in Michigan was so encouraging. In People v. Koon, the court ruled in favor of a medical marijuana patient, who fought the zero-tolerance policy for marijuana users. The court said that the state’s medical marijuana program exempted patients from that strict interpretation of intoxication, as individuals with a prescription are legally allowed to consume it.
This is of course not the case in Alabama, which has yet to enact any sort of legalized medical marijuana initiative. However, this ruling may serve as a cautionary tale against enacting such strict limits, particularly when those limits aren’t based on any scientific fact.
Researchers with both the University of Colorado, Denver and Montana State University recently took a look at the relationship between per se drugged driving thresholds and the overall incidences of traffic fatalities, per the Fatality Analysis Reporting System between 1990 and 2010. What they found was that the relationship is “statistically indistinguishable.” In other words, there is no evidence at all that these kinds of limits reduce the number of traffic deaths.
One must wonder, then, what the true reason is for this type of legislation?
Even absent the introduction of a blood-alcohol test, there is the possibility that the court could convict a person of drugged DUI if they used other evidence to prove the intoxication. One way they do this is with the introduction of a witness known as a Drug Recognition Expert. This is a trained police officer who is brought on the scene of a suspected drugged driving case to identify whether an individual is on drugs, what type of drugs and to what degree he or she is intoxicated. But first of all, even for all the training these individuals are given, the end result is still subjective. And secondly, there are only about 6,800 trained DREs in the U.S. – that’s fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s police force.
The bottom line is that if you are arrested for marijuana DUI in Alabama, you might have a good chance of beating the charge – if you call a good lawyer.