As attitudes about marijuana change, concern grows over DUI charges

In recent years, attitudes about marijuana have shifted rapidly across the U.S. With Washington and Colorado legalizing the recreational use of the drug last year and other jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., currently considering decriminalization measures, it is clear that even more changes are on the way. Nevertheless, even staunch advocates of marijuana legalization have recognized that there are no easy answers to one significant problem: how to handle cases where individuals are suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana.

Even in states where marijuana use is legal, it remains illegal to get behind the wheel while under the influence. Police face several challenges, however, when they stop someone on suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana.

First, in some circumstances, it can be difficult to determine whether someone has been smoking marijuana. In some cases, a suspect may have eaten something containing THC - the ingredient in marijuana that provides the high - or may have been using a vaporizer. In either case, outward signs of marijuana use, such as a telltale odor, would not be present. While police may be able to observe other outward signs of intoxication, such as bloodshot eyes, arrests of sober individuals remain a real possibility.

Second, researchers have not reliably established the limit at which individuals become intoxicated after using marijuana. Unlike alcohol, where impairment is predictable at certain levels of consumption, marijuana appears to affect some people differently than others. This means that for some, a small amount of the drug may result in impairment. For others, it may take a great deal more.

Third, even blood tests are not necessarily reliable when determining marijuana intoxication. A person's blood alcohol content decreases predictably as time passes. Evidence of marijuana use, however, can show up days or even weeks after a person has last used the drug. This means that someone can test positive for marijuana use at a traffic stop, even though he is completely sober and able to drive safely. Although researchers have been working to develop a test for police to use during traffic stops, it does not appear that a marijuana "Breathalyzer" is likely to be developed soon.

It may be that marijuana use is becoming more acceptable, but significant challenges remain in developing policies to enforce existing laws. If you have been arrested for DUI or any other crime, schedule a consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney today.