Colorado drivers could be at risk for wrongful marijuana DUI charges
Research suggests that blood THC level doesn’t reliably indicate impairment. Given Colorado’s legal limit, drivers may end up facing wrongful DUID charges
Even though recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, driving under the influence of this substance remains illegal. Most Lakewood residents are aware of this law and do their best to avoid driving while they could be considered impaired. Unfortunately, the current law could leave residents and visitors vulnerable to criminal charges, even if they are not driving high.
As the Colorado Department of Transportation explains, the state has established a legal limit for blood THC concentration. Drivers with over .5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood can be charged with driving under the influence of drugs. Unfortunately, research indicates that blood THC concentration isn’t a reliable way to measure impairment. As a result, some drivers may end up facing unvalidated charges.
An unreliable measure
Unlike blood alcohol concentration, blood THC level may not be a reliable indicator of impairment. According to The New York Times, research shows that driving skills decrease as BAC level rises. This general result is consistent across people regardless of gender, age or drinking habits. However, research has not established this same predictable relationship between driving and blood THC levels.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fact sheet illustrates some inherent issues with establishing a legal blood THC concentration limit. First, THC levels don’t depend solely on the amount of marijuana that a person has consumed. The person’s tolerance and the way that the person consumed the substance may also affect THC levels. Therefore, even in people who have the same gender and weight, the same blood THC level may reflect different levels of impairment.
Additionally, when people smoke marijuana, THC levels reach an immediate maximum during smoking, then decline. The rate of decline may vary between people. This means that the level of THC present in a person’s blood may reflect metabolism and other factors more than impairment.
Given these issues, the NHTSA notes that blood THC concentration is not an effective way to predict impairment. This means that some people who exceed the legal blood THC concentration limit in Colorado may not truly be impaired.
Under current state law, authorities base DUID arrests on observed signs of impairment. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, people with BAC levels below the legal limit cannot be prosecuted for DUID. Similarly, people who do not exhibit signs of impairment cannot be arrested or charged.
Still, evaluating signs of impairment from marijuana use is a highly subjective process. Officers typically must rely on field sobriety tests or visible symptoms. Field sobriety tests are not a foolproof way to detect impairment, as even sober drivers may struggle during these tests. Additionally, some typical symptoms of marijuana use, such as bloodshot eyes, may also occur for other reasons. This means that even sober drivers may show supposed signs of marijuana use.
Given these issues with identifying drivers impaired by marijuana, people charged with DUID may have grounds to challenge the charge. Consulting with an attorney can be a beneficial first step for people who are in this position. An attorney may be able to offer advice on personal rights, current state laws and potential next steps.
Keywords: wrongful marijuana, influence of drugs.