• DUI of Pot: New Rules of the Road
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    DUI of Pot: New Rules of the Road

    Now that some states have legalized the sale of medical and recreational marijuana, how does that affect the rules of the road? Can you drive after you’ve smoked a little pot? The increased availability of pot may create more problems on the road. Statistics reveal that pot smoking is already affecting a significant number of drivers on the road. Random roadside checks, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety administration, show that some type of legal or illegal drugs, half of which is pot, impairs 16.3 percent of all nighttime drivers across the country.

    We are all familiar with the traditional driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. Now we must consider the DUI of pot, and new rules of the road.

    Pot Tests–What’s Available?

    Traditional breathalyzer tests used for alcohol do not work for marijuana (pot) use. It is far more difficult to identify a stoned driver than a drunk one. Only about 30 percent of frequently stoned drivers failed the standard field sobriety test. Why? Probably because the more often a driver is stoned on marijuana, the more difficult it is to identify when they are impaired. That said, 50 percent of less frequent marijuana users failed the field test.

    Urine test. The active ingredient in pot is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can be tested through in blood and urine samples. Urine tests can test positive for marijuana use days or weeks after it was actually smoked, so a positive result after a roadside-stop-related test doesn’t necessarily mean the driver was driving under the influence of pot on that particular occasion.

    Blood tests. Some states consider any level of THC in the blood to be a positive result, but there are six states that have set specific legal limits for the THC blood tests. In Colorado and Washington, where recreational use of pot is legal, the blood level limit is 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood or 5 parts per billion.

    The bottom line is that, while there are tests to show recent pot use, it is difficult to determine the date of use, and the level of real-time impairment.

    Saliva tests. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a saliva test is being developed to detect pot use. Police at a roadside stop would perform a mouth swab when marijuana DUI is suspected. This technology, however, is still quite a ways away from being perfected and implemented.

    The Risks of Driving Stoned

    Marijuana affects driving skills. And while some researchers say that driving stoned is less dangerous than driving drunk, it’s still reported that if there is a measurable amount of THC in the blood, there is a double risk of a motor vehicle accident. Stoned drivers are shown to:

    • Drive slower than normal
    • Overestimate their driving skills
    • Have slowed reaction times
    • Are more likely to drift across the road and to swerve

    The legalization of medical marijuana has increased the urgency to identify what level of THC in the blood qualifies as a DUI. The issue is complicated because where a medical issue is being treated with medical marijuana, the effects might actually improve driving skills in special cases. For example, some people use pot to reduce the tremors associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). When the pot kicks in and the tremors subside, many people with MS feel they are safer to get behind the wheel.

    There are so many variables to qualifying the DUI of pot. Are those who use it for recreation more impaired than those who use it for medical reasons? There are many unanswered questions.

    The Future Outlook of DUI of Pot

    The campaigns against drunk driving will eventually extend to marijuana smokers and driving when stoned. Many people think that DUI laws do not apply to pot, including in Colorado, where recreational marijuana was legalized on January 1, 2014. But they do apply, if impairment is proven–so user beware.

    As the legality of pot continues to shift, and if more states follow in Washington and Colorado’s footsteps, it is certain that stricter rules and regulations will soon follow.


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