Is There Such Thing as a Marijuana DUI?


As the number of states and cities legalizing marijuana for some or all purposes grows, the next issue is how state and local law will be revamped to address marijuana-related impairment. Will we see the creation of a marijuana DUI/DWI? If so, what will the standards be and how will they operate?

RELATED: A Marijuana Breathalyzer?

For now, the answer is that we don’t know. Yet. So what do we know?

Well, we know what alcohol-related sobriety tests often look like from YouTube. Or from the scene in “Bridesmaids” where Kristin Wiig attempts to prove that she is not impaired by doing a strange dance on the center line.  We also know that most if not all biologically-based sobriety testing as used by states and cities is keyed to the federally-set .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standard.

What people forget, however, is that it took about 30 years for science and politics to agree on that standard. Nicholas Lovrich, Regents Professor Emeritus for Washington State University’s School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs observed: “Just like .08 [BAC] isn’t equally impairing for every human being on the planet, it’s a good workable standard,” Lovrich said. “I think we’ll be looking for that standard [for marijuana], and it’ll vary and that’ll take a decade to refine.”

There is another factor to consider, however: the lack of solid data directly relating grass use to auto accidents or infractions. First, there is no good “roadside test” to measure drug levels. Second, drivers involved in accidents are usually not tested for drugs (including marijuana) if their BAC is above the legal limit because the ability to win a conviction on a DUI primarily relies on the driver’s BAC and the surrounding circumstances. And even if a urine screen reveals that the driver had used pot, urine tests detect non-psychoactive marijuana metabolites for days to weeks after use, long after any impairment is resolved.

The federal government has concluded that more research is needed to determine how much marijuana impairs a person’s driving ability. While this area of the law is developing, however, some states are taking the position that any amount of marijuana metabolites in a driver’s urine or blood is sufficient to sustain a DUI/DWI charge.

For the interim, Norml.org has some good advice: “While the adverse impact of grass on psychomotor skills is less severe than the effects of alcohol, driving under the acute influence of cannabis still may pose an elevated risk of an accident in certain situations, especially among inexperienced cannabis consumers. Because marijuana’s psychomotor impairment is subtle and short-lived, however, consumers can greatly reduce this risk by refraining from driving for a period of several hours immediately following cannabis use.”

We’ll be watching this issue closely. We’ll also be updating you on the status of efforts to develop a test for marijuana-based impairment akin to the BAC test used for alcohol. Check the blog out to find out more.

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