Concerns raised about Colorado’s marijuana DUI charges

People could be convicted despite not being impaired while driving

With its "Drive High, Get a DUI" campaign, Colorado's Department of Transportation (CDOT) is reminding people in the state that testing positive for marijuana while behind the wheel is considered much the same as driving while under the influence of alcohol, according to USA Today. However, DUI charges for marijuana are coming under close scrutiny, with critics saying that current limits set by the law could see people who are not actually impaired convicted of a DUI.

Legal pot limit

In Colorado, the law sets the legal limit for marijuana while driving at 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. However, that limit has raised some questions, with CDOT's own spokesperson admitting that "One hit could put someone over the limit."

Unlike in Washington, the only other state with legalized recreational marijuana, in Colorado drivers can rebut the charge of impairment if they exceed the 5 nanogram limit. Indeed, some critics point out that the 5 nanogram limit could mean that people who are not actually impaired could still be charged, and convicted, of a DUI unless they choose to rebut the charges. In Colorado, while a blood test exceeding the 5 nanogram limit would mean that the court would presume the accused was impaired at the time of arrest, a jury could nonetheless find the accused not guilty despite the test.

Debatable effect on driving

The problem is that scientists and authorities are finding it much more difficult to measure marijuana's effect on driving compared to alcohol's effect. According to the Christian Science Monitor, scientific studies into the issue have largely contradicted one another.

Some studies, for example, have found that marijuana use impedes quick decision-making skills and peripheral vision, thus suggesting that high drivers are also dangerous drivers. The problem, however, is that unlike drunk drivers, people high on pot are often aware that they are impaired and take corrective action, such as driving slower and maintaining a safe distance with other vehicles, to make up for their impairment. A further problem with the 5 nanogram limit is that studies have also found that people who regularly consume marijuana are less likely to be impaired by the drug than people who are relatively new to the substance. Therefore, 5 nanograms of THC in the blood could have very different effects on different people.

Fighting a DUI charge

Now that recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, it seems likely that marijuana DUIs will increase. However, as the above story shows, these DUIs raise plenty of questions and concerns.

Anybody who has been charged with a DUI should contact a qualified criminal defense attorney to discuss what options are available. An experienced attorney will look at all aspects of a given case to see whether a DUI charge is warranted and whether errors may have been made in charging an individual with a DUI.