On one hand, it has never been so easy to get legal marijuana in the USA. Sure, cannabis isn’t federally legal, but many states now offer medical or recreational programs. Conversely, marijuana usage has never been as scrutinized as it is today, particularly regarding DUIs.
Although most states haven’t significantly altered their DUI laws, lawmakers want to deter drugged driving. As cannabis becomes more culturally acceptable, legislators and police must ensure it doesn’t pose any public safety risks. Therefore, policing cannabis DUIs is a top priority for legislators in “green states.”
Drivers must review how each state defines cannabis DUIs and what police look for in potential perpetrators. A clear understanding of how cannabis DUIs work could significantly alter a driver’s decisions.
Things to Avoid When Driving – Drive Safely!
Like with alcohol, police need “probable cause” to pull over drivers for a cannabis-related DUI. In other words, drivers must pose a threat to public safety for officers to inspect a driver for DUI.
In most cases, this “probable cause” is related to erratic driving. Whether a driver was swerving out of lanes, stopping short, or disobeying traffic signals, officers should have a clear safety-related cause for intervening.
Here are a few common behaviors associated with impaired driving:
- Driving through stoplights.
- Driving over curbs.
- Stopping and starting your car.
- Parking in the middle of the road.
- Driving faster or slower than the official speed limit.
- Swerving out of lanes.
- Disobeying yield or stop signs.
However, it’s worth noting that many jurisdictions allow police to set up random field sobriety tests. At these checkpoints, drivers must submit to standard DUI screenings, no questions asked. While most of these tests check for alcohol, it’s becoming increasingly common for officers to investigate cannabis use as well.
Drivers should also remember officers can request DUI-related info if they were involved in a crash. Even if a driver doesn’t harm anyone, police can ask for a drug test if the motorist caused any property damage.
How Do Police Test For A Cannabis DUI?
There’s no formal checklist for evaluating a driver’s cannabis use. Instead, police officers pay careful attention to a driver’s appearance and behavior to determine whether they’ve used marijuana.
Police will scan a driver’s car for any signs of recent drug use. In the case of marijuana, this may include looking for drug paraphernalia like pipes, lighters, or joint paper. Responding officers will also smell a driver’s breath and vehicle or clothing for lingering weed-related odors.
A few of the following traits may also trigger a DUI investigation:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Slurred speech
- Memory impairment
- Poor hand-eye coordination
- Uncontrollable giggles
If an officer believes a driver was using marijuana, they could enlist the help of a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). When a DRE arrives on the scene, they will use standard field sobriety tests to scan for muscle coordination and balance. DREs could also examine a person’s eyes for dilation or ask them to count backward.
Lastly, officers may request a drug test to examine THC content in a driver’s bloodstream. Currently, it’s impossible to scan THC with a breathalyzer, so officers often ask drivers to submit a drug test via urine, saliva, or blood sample.
In most states, there’s no minimum allowed THC threshold for DUIs. Indeed, if drivers have any THC in their system, they may be charged with a DUI. However, some states like Colorado formally recognize a cannabis DUI if a driver has 5 ng/ml THC in their bloodstream.
Have Cannabis DUI Stops Increased in Legal States?
Marijuana has yet to enjoy full legalization like alcohol, so it’s difficult to say what will happen in a post-Prohibition America. However, recent data suggests there could be a rise in cannabis-related DUIs after pot becomes legal.
Indeed, info from Washington State suggests relaxed cannabis laws play some role in increased DUIs. According to Washington State’s data, ~ 19 percent of total DUI crashes before Initiative 502 involved THC. After this 2012 law legalized marijuana, the rates of THC DUIs increased to 33 percent in 2015.
Researchers at AAA also found that more Washington drivers involved in fatal DUI crashes had THC in their system post-Initiative 502.
Between 2008 – 2012, the average rate of fatal THC-related DUIs ranged from 8.6 – 9.4 percent. In 2013, however, these DUI rates spiked to 14 percent, and they continued to climb with each year. AAA said 21.4 percent of DUI drivers in fatal crashes in 2017 had THC in their system.
Colorado police have also noticed an increase in cannabis-related DUIs since legalizing weed in 2012. A recent report from the Colorado State Patrol suggests marijuana DUIs have increased by 48 percent between 2020 and 2021. Researchers at Mothers Against Drunk Driving claim Colorado’s fatal marijuana DUIs went from 11.43 percent to 21.3 percent between 2013 and 2017.
Nationally, the NHTSA found that marijuana use while driving has increased in recent years. As of 2014, about 12.6 percent of weekend drivers had some amount of cannabis in their blood during late hours. By contrast, that NHTSA figure was around 8.6 percent in 2007.
While these statistics are valid, they don’t necessarily prove a correlation between THC and DUI fatalities. Indeed, researchers at the University of Sydney recently found no strong association between a driver’s THC blood sample and psychomotor function. Scientists arrived at this conclusion after analyzing dozens of reports on car crashes involving marijuana.
Recent data from Colorado’s Division of Criminal Justice also suggests drunk driving remains the most lethal form of DUI in the Granite State. While DUI cases involving delta-9 rose from 2,489 in 2016 to 2,848 in 2019, alcohol-related DUIs remained above 13,900 per year between 2016 – 2019.
Interestingly, even when Colorado police suspected drivers of using THC, about 53 percent of cases had above five ng/mL THC in their system. For context, about 10 percent of alleged alcohol-related DUI tests came out negative in 2019.
As more people use legal cannabis, it’s likely police will find THC or related metabolites in more drivers. Customers in states like Colorado are more prone to take marijuana products, and police are likely to scan more people for this cannabinoid. Both of these factors contribute to the DUI numbers in recreationally legal states, but they don’t necessarily prove a connection between THC limits and a person’s impairment.
Concerned About Cannabis DUI? reepher Could Help!
Considering most states have no minimum THC threshold for a DUI conviction, cannabis consumers face serious risks if they drive with the slightest trace of THC in their system. With few exceptions, police can charge a driver with a marijuana DUI no matter how little THC is in their test if their driving behavior suggests or implies intoxication. The penalties drivers will face for a cannabis DUI conviction are severe and not to be taken lightly!
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