Detecting Marijuana Use among Drivers Not an Exact Science

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In November, California joined the states of Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational marijuana use. According to law enforcement, this shift in the law has resulted in an uptick in the number of arrests for and accidents caused by pot intoxication while drivers are behind the wheel. These increased arrests may be due in part to the fact that, according to researchers, law enforcement lacks a highly reliable way to identify whether a driver is high.

California police officers have developed a system for identifying drug intoxication among drivers, using 12 different measurements such as the suspected drug user’s eye reaction to light, their blood pressure, their muscle tone, and their ability to walk a straight line. Local law enforcement departments train so-called drug-recognition experts to conduct these tests in the field in order to identify drivers intoxicated by marijuana or other drugs while on the road. These experts will test drivers after they’re pulled over and, if an arrest is made, will testify to what type of drug they believed the arrestee was intoxicated by at the time of the arrest, and what the effect would have been on their driving.

However, the methods used for drug recognition are far from perfect. With the legalization of marijuana, the mere presence of pot in a driver’s system isn’t cause for arrest. Additionally, different individuals react differently to consuming pot, so one driver who has had twice as much pot as the next may not be impaired while behind the wheel. There is not a large amount of research on the effects of marijuana on the ability to drive safely, so there is little support for an evidence-based policy on marijuana DUIs. Ultimately, DUIs for marijuana use are based on the officer’s opinion of their behavior at a roadside stop, or observation of impaired driving, and not hard science.

Some law enforcement bodies, such as the San Diego Police Department, have begun using a portable drug testing machine to determine the presence of pot in a driver’s system. San Diego’s officers use the Drager DrugTest5000 to swab the mouth of a suspected intoxicated driver and using the saliva sample, determine whether the driver has recently consumed pot. However, the driver would still need to undergo a blood test to identify whether they had recently consumed pot. Plus, the psychoactive component in marijuana (THC) can remain in the body for days or months after use, as the body stores it in fat cells. There is currently no legal limit on how much pot can be in a driver’s system before they will qualify as intoxicated. With so much uncertainty, contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney after a DWI arrest for marijuana is vital.

If you’ve been arrested for impaired or intoxicated driving, obtain skilled, aggressive and effective legal representation to protect your freedom and future by contacting the Ventura DUI attorney Paul Tyler of Tyler Law for a consultation, at 805-889-9000.

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