How Does the Law Treat “Driving While High”?

by dave on March 21, 2012

With medical marijuana being present in 16 states, and some considering all-out legalization, the issue of driving while high is becoming more of a priority for law enforcement and legislators. But measuring someone’s “highness” isn’t as easy as the breath test used to measure drunkenness and this is proving to be a difficult matter for officials to solve.

Right now, if you were to get pulled over and the officer suspected you of being high, his determination would solely be based on judgment. If your eyes were red, if you smelled of marijuana, or exhibited other signs, he could use these to determine if you should be arrested.

Driving while under the influence of drugs, a crime in every state, and in most statutes, is treated the same as A DUI when impaired or intoxicated by alcohol.

Lawmakers are hoping to come up with a better way of testing for high-ness, however. It isn’t as simple as a breath test as a proxy for alcohol in your bloodstream.

If you are arrested for driving while high you will be given a blood test. But when it comes to marijuana, that blood test can register pot that you smoked weeks ago. According to the St. Louis Tribune, Dr. Marilyn Huestis of the National Institute on Drug Abuse says they are working on a saliva test to remedy this problem, a test that would identify whether someone had smoked marijuana recently.

Regardless, two states have set a standard for 2 nanograms of THC (the active component in marijuana) per milliliter of blood, while some others have a zero tolerance policy. Both Washington and Colorado set the limit at 5 nanograms.

Another problem with testing for marijuana intoxication is the fact that it affects everyone differently. Body size and gender play a role, as does tolerance. Someone who smokes often will obviously need more pot to get the same effects as someone who is an occasional user.

There is research to show that driving while high increases the likelihood of an auto accident. Though deadly crashes have fallen overall in the past several years, “the percentage of mortally wounded drivers who later tested positive for drugs rose 18 percent between 2005 and 2011.”

The Obama administration has made drugged driving a priority, seeking to reduce highway fatalities. They have also made unprecedented moves to intervene in state laws regarding medical marijuana, so it will be interesting to see their position on any forthcoming drugged driving laws and tests.

Recently, a study showed that fatal traffic accidents are less likely in states where medical marijuana legislation exists, suggesting more people are likely to stay home after smoking than get out and drive around. The same research showed that marijuana smoking among 20-somethings increased while use among teens remained steady. Also, the use of alcohol among college students decreased in these states, suggesting they found other ways of partying.

The best piece of advice no matter the legislation is to just not drive while high. A few swerves and bloodshot eyes may be all that’s needed for a cop to arrest you on suspicion of drugged driving, search your vehicle and come up with a stash of pot.

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