Marijuana Legalization Prompts New DUI Bills: But Can Pot Smokers Drive Under the Influence?

With marijuana declared legal in Colorado and Washington this past election, lawmakers are concerned with an increase in the number of DUI charges.

A Colorado bill has been proposed to enact a limit on the amount of marijuana found in one's system while operating a vehicle. While such legislation seeks positive outcomes in the wake of the historic legalization vote, it certainly presents its complications.

This bill is not the first version to be presented in the Colorado legislature. This will be the third attempt at getting it passed, and lawmakers are confident that the third time will be the charm. If passed the legal limit for marijuana present in drivers will be at five nanograms of THC (the active ingredient found in the substance). Testing for those levels will be difficult however. Unlike testing for alcohol levels through a Breathalyzer test, authorities can only conduct blood tests to suspicious marijuana users.

The bill also permits those caught with higher levels of THC to be able to argue that their driving skills were not affected. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, THC levels usually decrease to levels below five nanograms within three hours of initially smoking. Is the simple answer for smokers to delay getting behind the wheel? It appears a bit more complicated than that.

The main issue for Colorado lawmakers to consider is the fundamental differences between marijuana and alcohol. These substances have their own unique affects on the human body. Marijuana enthusiasts argue that alcohol affects driving impairment more drastically. However the issue is twofold in that inviting smokers to defend that their illegal limits of THC may open the doors for drinkers to claim that illegal alcohol levels did not affect them either.

The other issue may be the five nanogram limit. The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice established the standard that has sparked such debate. While 5 nanograms is considered impaired in the eyes of the Colorado justice system, many argue that the level is not a valid indication of a person’s lack of sobriety. People Against Nanogram Driving Acts (PANDA) has ordered a petition to prevent the driving bill from progressing forward in the legislature. The document has received 274 signatures thus far, and needs 225 more to receive legal attention.

The legal limit of THC debate is just another indication of the complexity of the legislation process. No issue is black and white and somehow legislation will always invite critics in some way shape or form. While lawmakers feel that this bill may be successful, the path to its legalization may not be an easy one.

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Shawna Gillen

Shawna is currently studying Political Science and Psychology at Marist College. She has a passion for politics and is an aspiring lawyer. In her spare time she likes to play club women's rugby, and contributes as the Co-News Editor for Marist's student newspaper.

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