Cannabis and Zero Tolerence Policies for DUIs
Do you know the laws as they apply to cannabis and driving under the influence (DUI)? These laws are also labeled as DUID or Driving Under the Influence of Drugs. With the opening of cannabis lounges and other public venues in which partaking is legal, having THC in your system is sometimes viewed as similar to having alcohol on your breath. Each state has addressed this area of legalization in its own way, therefore it is essential for anyone considering consuming medical or recreational cannabis, then operating a vehicle to understand the implications of a legal cannabis DUI.
Legal Cannabis and DUI
For those residing in or visiting Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin, please note these states have zero-tolerance driving under the influence laws for certain drugs, including THC. Here, there is no form of a legal cannabis DUI. The states of Illinois, Montana, Nevada, Ohio and Washington all have specific per se THC limits, ranging between two and five nanograms. Per se laws establish that once a person is shown to have reached or surpassed the legal limit, that person will be considered impaired by law. Another version of these laws are permissible inference laws, active in Colorado, which is when the prosecutor must prove the driving was impaired; additionally, under the law, a certain level of cannabis or THC in your system is seen as permissible inference.
Generally, public support appears to lie on the side of restricting driving while under the influence of THC. AAA’s 2019 Traffic Safety Culture Index reveals 70% of respondents consider driving shortly after using cannabis to be very or extremely dangerous. Over 84% of surveyed participants support laws making it illegal to drive with a certain amount of cannabis in the driver’s system. Despite this preference for keeping impaired drivers off the road, the real challenge lies in testing for this type of inebriation. While alcohol-related drunken driving has a national standard of .08 g/mL blood alcohol concentration, as well as typical testing methods, there is no similar norm for drugged driving. Drugs affect people even less consistently than alcohol. Further, drugs such as cannabis can remain in the system for weeks, thus still appearing in roadside tests although no longer causing impairment. Another complication arises within drivers who may be under the influence of both marijuana and alcohol, or another combination of substances.
Detection for DUI
Today, the most common methods to detect marijuana are through blood, urine or saliva. Some states have launched oral fluid testing programs. Alabama, for example, initially conducted a pilot program and later transitioned to a permanent oral fluid toxicology program using oral fluid testing devices in both screening and evidentiary capacity. Authority was given to Michigan state police to develop an oral fluid pilot program, which was tested in five counties and used drug recognition experts to administer the oral fluid test. The program was extended for one year until Sept. 30, 2020, and is now conducted statewide. Unlike previous programs, this program is not voluntary as drivers are not given the option of opting out from providing a sample. Refusal to submit to an oral fluid test is considered a civil infraction.
International Travel and DUI
Looking to travel northward? Visitors to Canada are not exempt from these types of influenced driving restrictions: operating a vehicle after consuming cannabis is a criminal offense, and the amount in your system determines sentencing. Between two and five nanograms of THC per ml of blood can result in a hefty fine, whereas more than five nanograms can be both a larger fine and the potential of jail time.
In current DUID news, the Pennsylvania legislature is considering a proposal that protects users of medical cannabis from the state’s “zero tolerance” impaired driving penalties. Senate Bill 167, would amend Title 75, the Vehicle Code, to insert language that says “if the individual is a medical marijuana patient in compliance with the provisions of the Medical Marijuana Act, proof of actual impairment shall be required.” Comparative to the treatment of prescribed drugs when discovered on a person, supporters of the measure include The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.
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