How legalized pot affects impaired driving charges in DC

I have a close friend who works on marijuana legislation, and it’s an amazingly complex legal field. So this story about D.C. is just one facet:

Since it became legal to possess and even cultivate small amounts of recreational marijuana in Washington, D.C., lawmakers and law enforcement officials alike have been forced to reconsider the way they approach impaired driving charges. This year, The Governors Highway Safety Association (an organization based in Washington, D.C.) published a report indicating that almost as many individuals operate vehicles high on pot or pills on the road as they do impaired by alcohol. This begs the question of whether it is necessary for Washington, D.C. to take further steps to monitor drugged driving, specifically when it comes to marijuana.

The report, Drug Impaired Driving: A Guide for What States Can Do, found that nearly 40 percent of victims in fatal crashes were found to have drugs in their system. Of this 40 percent, one-third of this group tested positive for marijuana. However, the report concedes that this data is not always reliable because even when blood tests positive for marijuana, it does not necessarily mean that the individual was significantly impaired by marijuana at the time. This is because chemicals associated with marijuana use can stay in the blood even after the effects have worn off.

According to D.C. DUI lawyer Shawn Sukumar, “The question in most DUI cases is whether an individual was actually impaired at the time of the DUI stop. Police officers have ways of measuring the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath, blood or urine, and these measurements are used as direct evidence of a person’s intoxication level at the point of arrest. However, when it comes to marijuana, there is no device or test that can accurately indicate the degree of impairment or the time that has elapsed since the drug was consumed.”

While more research is conducted on the effects of marijuana on driving, the report suggests that the District of Columbia should continue to educate the public regarding the possible dangerous effects of driving under the influence of drugs. In the meantime, you can be charged with a drug-related DUI offense in DC if law enforcement believes that your ability to drive has been impaired by a drug. Signs that a police officer will look for when determining whether you are under the influence of marijuana include the odor, tremors, and incomplete or incoherent thoughts.

As time passes, it is entirely possible that the District’s policies regarding marijuana use and driving may become stricter and more explicit. As yet, however, no considerable changes have been made to the DUI statutes.