Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana in their state last year under Initiative 502. The state of Washington also had the foresight to include a strict law against driving under the influence of cannabis. In the Washington law, it specifically identifies the amount of marijuana drivers can have in their blood to be charged with a per se dui, guilty of “driving under the influence” of cannabis. The law specifies 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, 5 ng/ml.
Interestingly, there is little scientific evidence that 5 ng/ml is associated with impairment. But this doesn’t matter. Since the Washington law has been passed, law enforcement officers in the state of Washington do not have to prove a driver is impaired from marijuana use if their blood is at or above the legal limit to arrest them for DUI. They simply have to prove the driver has met the legal threshold.
How does this new law affect Washington drivers?
Many marijuana users argue, however, that the new legal limit to identify impairment doesn’t measure impairment at all, but simply the level of active THC in the blood. So many recreational marijuana users, as well as those who use marijuana for medical purposes, may be limited in their ability to operate a motorized vehicle, regardless of their impairment level.
Proponents of including the limit in the new law suggested, however, that it would be unlikely that Washington police officers would charge drivers with a DUI if they were not impaired, but enforcement of the law has become prevalent.
Are more Washington drivers being arrested for DUI?
So are more drivers being arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana since legalizing marijuana? According to the Associated Press, there are more drivers testing positive for marijuana use. Authorities, however, suggest this may have more to do with the increased number of blood tests given rather than an actual increase in drivers who are driving under the influence.
But the numbers are pretty staggering. For instance, in the first six months of 2013, there have been 745 drivers who have tested positive for marijuana. Historically, Washington has arrested approximately one thousand drivers each year for driving under the influence of pot. If the number for the first half of the year is extrapolated, by the end of 2013 we can expect a 50% increase in the number of DUI drivers arrested for marijuana use while driving.
The Washington State Patrol notes, however, that they have not seen an overall increase in driving under the influence cases (drugs and alcohol), which is expected to be about 20,000 for the year. So what does this mean? The state believes that some of the drivers who were previously getting intoxicated with alcohol may now be turning to marijuana.
What are the penalties for driving under the influence of pot?
If you are arrested for driving under the influence of pot you may be charged with a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. Keep in mind, if you are charged with DUI you may not be able to have your driving record expunged and you might face high fines and penalties.
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