NHTSA Study Calls Marijuana DUI Limits into Question


Since Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana, there has been lively debate on both sides of the issue regarding the potential benefits and drawbacks of the new law. Many opponents to legalized marijuana have made the argument that Colorado’s permissive laws will increase the incidence of people driving while impaired by marijuana, making our roads and highways less safe. Statistics regarding whether this has occurred are unavailable, as until recently, Colorado did not keep records of whether a particular driving under the influence (case) was related to alcohol or to other drugs.  The Denver Post reports that the first statistics regarding the number of DUI citations that involve marijuana were released late last year by the Colorado State Patrol and indicate that approximately 1 in every 8 DUI citation issued by that agency involved the suspected use of marijuana.

While relatively rare, it is important for Colorado drivers to understand that a marijuana-related DUI is just as serious as one involving alcohol and can involve the same harsh penalties. Consequently, anyone who is facing a Marijuana DUI should discuss their options with an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible after an arrest occurs.

Federal study indicates that stoned driving is not as dangerous as drunk driving, and drug concentration levels cannot be relied upon to determine levels of intoxication

Determining whether someone is intoxicated to the point that he or she should not be on the road has proven more difficult regarding the use of marijuana and other drugs than it is for alcohol. Colorado law prohibits driving while a person’s ability to do so is impaired by drugs or alcohol to a “substantial degree,” which qualifies as driving under the influence. In addition, there is a lesser offense of Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI), which involves driving with your ability affected to the slightest degree due to drugs or alcohol. To provide some clarity as to levels of intoxication, the legislature has also created a per se DUI offense as related to alcohol involving driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, as well as a presumption of intoxication if a person is found driving with 5 nanograms of Delta-9 THC per milliliter in their blood.

A study released earlier this month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that driving while under the influence of marijuana may not be as dangerous as once believed. According to the agency, “[a]t the current time, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment.” In addition, while driving with a 0.08 BAC increases a person’s risk significantly increases a person’s risk of being involved in an accident, the study did not find as strong of a correlation between marijuana use and crash risk.

While these findings may tend to indicate that Colorado’s DUI laws as related to marijuana may be poorly written, they are still the law. It is important for drivers to recognize that driving while under the influence of marijuana can result in significant legal penalties. Consequently, it is important to abide by the law and also to call an attorney if you are accused of breaking it. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced Denver DUI defense attorney, call the Tiftickjian Law Firm today at (303) DUI-5280.

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