There has always been a law banning the operation of a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, including marijuana. But, with the passage of legalized recreational marijuana, that law is being clarified and certain to be enforced more often.Charged with a crime in Washington? Call now. (888) 246-5778.
When someone has been smoking marijuana, it isn’t always obvious. Unlike alcohol, you won’t necessarily smell the pot, unless they just got done smoking it. And also unlike alcohol, people can build a significant tolerance to the effects of marijuana overtime, making someone less likely to exhibit the “signs” of being high.
But law enforcement officials will soon be looking a bit more closely at those people they pull over on suspicion of driving while impaired.
The New Washington DUI – Marijuana Law
The new law, passed as part of the recreational marijuana legalization Initiative-502, will go into effect on December 6, 2012. Anyone who is in operation of a vehicle and has a more than 5 nanograms of THC in their bloodstream will be considered “under the influence” and subject to a DUI conviction.
How will they know how much THC you have in your blood? Unlike alcohol, which law enforcement can check for with a basic breath test, the THC test will require a blood test. If the police have reason to believe you are under the influence, they can take you into custody and carry you to a hospital for a mandatory blood test.
(In the backwards world of DUI laws, you can be subject to mandatory blood draws before you are given the benefit of due process protection. In other words, the government can pierce your skin and take your blood, without your consent, on a mere suspicion of a criminal violation.) However, a judge will need to agree to a search warrant for this procedure. There should be a significant standard of probable cause for the judge to sign to force such an invasive test. But this is a new law, and we will have to wait and see exactly how these standards are applied by Washington state judges.
What the law doesn’t change:
The police must still have probable cause to believe you are driving while impaired before they can pull you over. They can’t pull you over on suspicion of DUI-marijuana just because you look like a marijuana smoker. Things like driving too slowly for the speed limit, swerving, and general erratic driving behavior could get you pulled over.
Also, you still have rights.
There are bound to be hiccups as law enforcement begins implementing the new testing practices, and there are already significant problems arising. Namely: how do you know that someone with 5 ng of THC in their blood is truly impaired? There is also the problem of residual THC being in the blood long after the high of marijuana wears off. This could lead to some regular users (medical patients included) being arrested and even convicted when they weren’t even feeling the effects of marijuana.
The details of the law will be ironed out in the courts, and there are certain to be real challenges in court to the science behind these standards of impairment. We can only hope for fair, balanced judges and juries to make the right decisions in the protection of civil liberties.
DUI Marijuana Penalties
If you are convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana (DUI-marijuana), you will face the same serious penalties as if you had been found guilty of drunk driving. This means, for a first offense, you could face:
- up to one year in jail,
- $5,000 in fines,
- a suspension of your driving privileges, and
- alcohol and drug education classes.
The penalties increase as the number of DUIs on your record increase. For instance, if this is a second offense DUI charge within seven years, you could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail. If you have two or more prior DUI convictions on your record within seven years, you face a minimum of 90 days in jail.
The stakes are high.
If you are charged with driving under the influence of marijuana, you need someone on your side. Now more than ever, you need a local legal advocate who understands the new law and who understands your constitutional protections. Contact our Washington attorneys today to discuss your case and how we can fight your case in court.
Call today for a free case evaluation on any Washington DUI charge. No obligation.