Driving under the influence of marijuana in Georgia is hardly a newfound offense. With the rising popularity of the drug, both legally and illegally procured, law enforcement becomes increasingly aware of 'drugged' driving and the need to police it. However, attempts at policing cannabis-impaired driving have been muddled. Whereas impairment caused by alcohol is relatively easy to measure, impairment caused by cannabis has proved more difficult. Lawmakers have all but pinned down the laws and procedures of the ‘classical' alcohol DUI, they are equipped with peer-reviewed research to enforce the .08 limit and have officers trained in a battery of sobriety tests, known to adequately test impairment. Despite this, disputes and procedural errors arise frequently. The system is not perfect, but it is functional. Seeing as lawmakers lack a firm grasp on marijuana (and a body of recognized research surrounding the ‘limits' of impairment), the efforts of law enforcement are often tainted and confused, and as a result many people are arrests on extremely tenuous evidence. Despite certain parallels that exist between the two offenses, subjecting them to the same legal treatment (a legal limit, recognized tests of sobriety, signs of impairment, blood test results) may be doing more harm than good.
Marijuana industry experts have long pushed for a change in how the law treats marijuana DUI offenses, although these laws differ state to state. Driving under the influence of marijuana is a serious hazard and increases the likelihood of an accident, however, laws within certain states are so stringent that an individual not impaired by marijuana may receive a DUI charge simply because of the presence of marijuana metabolites in their blood, even if said marijuana was legally or medically procured. Wrongful charges are detrimental to society as well. Advocates for more nuanced marijuana laws, such as Washington defense attorney Scott Leist, agreed. The possibility of the driver being high rather than drunk has arguably put some police officers on edge - especially when confronted with a 0.0 blood alcohol reading, policemen may jump to the conclusion that the driver is under the influence of marijuana. In some cases, they have even taken them in on that count, on the basis of pure suspicion. Drivers may end up charged with driving under the influence of marijuana simply because they had trace amounts of THC metabolites in their blood. It is safe to say that the legislation dealing with marijuana driving offenses are sometimes poorly written or inadequately researched, and it is the people who take the brunt of this.
The body metabolizes alcohol and marijuana very differently. Tests which detect the amount of THC in one's system don't account for how long THC metabolites can stay in human cells. A smoker can theoretically take a weeks-long break from smoking and still have enough in his or her system to be charged. In an attempt to create a per se legal limit in the state of Washington, the legislature cited “marginally scientific” studies which held that the limit ought to be .5ng/ML, which Leist called “completely arbitrary.” Basing impairment off metabolites is problematic, precisely because the two substances behave and interact with the body differently. Although driving while under the influence of cannabis is not to be condoned, innocent and unimpaired drivers should not be punished under the law when they have committed no crime.
The speed of marijuana metabolism depends on a number of factors including:
- the time since it was ingested
- method of ingestion
- the person's frequency of use
- the concentration of THC
Impairment cannot be successfully or objectively linked to a figure or “limit.” Officers must often rely on other cues of impairment, such as the individual's driving, the odor of marijuana in the vehicle, admissions of recent use or physical signs such as red eyes.
More research is needed to streamline a unique method of policing marijuana DUI offenses, which is not informed by the classical methods of policing DUIs, as these methods generally do not hold up under the circumstances of a marijuana DUI.
If you have been charged with driving under the influence of marijuana or alcohol in the state of Georgia, do not hesitate to contact Georgia DUI attorney Richard Lawson for a free consultation. For more Georgia DUI Information, check back weekly.