Enforcement of Pot DUIs Remains Hazy for Police Departments

Marijuana is now legal in some U.S. states but the issue of enforcing pot-DUI cases is proving a legal minefield.

Recently the Wall Street Journal reported on how lawmakers are “struggling to create rules” for how to identify drivers who are under the influence of pot.

It seems identifying pot impairment is not as easy or straightforward as testing for alcohol. “There is no broad agreement over what blood level of THC – marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient – impairs driving,” stated the Wall Street Journal.


The breathalyzers that police use to detect alcohol are unable to detect marijuana levels. The issues inherent in pot-DUI cases are important in states that have legalized the use of marijuana.

In Washington State which legalized recreational marijuana use last year, voters decreed that drivers with five nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood are driving under the influence.

Colorado has the same limit but provides a chance for drivers to prove they are not impaired while there is a similar test in Montana, which allows medical marijuana use.

R. Andrew Sewell, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine told the Wall Street Journal the THC compound may quickly leave the system and regular users of marijuana may be impaired little due to their higher tolerance levels. It raises the potential problem of many impaired drivers being missed and innocent people being arrested, he said.

States are also experiencing something of a headache in sorting out punishments for drivers who are found to be high.

In Washington, for example, drivers convicted of alcohol or drug related DUI offenses must install a device on their car which will prevent it starting if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The problem is the ignition interlock can’t detect marijuana or any other drug for that matter.

The ambiguity of testing for marijuana raises a number of troubling questions. What is, less ambiguous is the potential of drivers under the influence of pot to kill and maim.

At the end of 2012 CBS pointed out how five of the eight deadly car crashes in Santa Cruz County in California involved drivers who had smoked pot before getting into their cars.



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