No Clear DUI Conclusions Yet in Washington's Marijuana "Experiment"

Much of the nation's eyes are on both Washington and Colorado right now to see whether or not their marijuana legalization "experiments" are successful enough to try in other states. It's now been roughly one year since Initiative 502 made marijuana legally available in Washington and many are anxious to know the law's effects on everything from DUI crimes to tax revenue. However, according to reports, it may still be too early to conclude anything about our state's new marijuana policies.

As Alaska Dispatch News reports, recent data on marijuana DUI (or "drugged driving") comes with many caveats. In 2014, there were 86 fatal car accidents that involved marijuana, a significant jump from 2013, which had only 55. However, the science behind detecting marijuana in a motorist's system still remains controversial. As it is known, carboxy-THC can remain in a person's blood for weeks after exposure—meaning that even if it is detected, it doesn't mean the user was high at the time of the crash. That means those crash statistics do not indicate whether the driver was actually impaired.

Other data also requires a closer look: State Toxicologist Dr. Fiona Couper reports that the number of drivers who tested positive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (the active, psychoactive chemical in pot) increased by 29% last year. That sounds concerning, but of those numbers, the number of drivers who tested below the five nanogram limit actually decreased from the year previous.

Authorities are hesitant to commit for reasons for any of these numbers. Theories, however, are plentiful. For instance, an increase in drivers testing positive for marijuana could be attributed to increased vigilance by law enforcement since Initiative 502 was passed. Additionally, the time it takes to actually test a driver for THC at a local hospital—sometimes up to two hours—may contribute to fewer instances of illegal levels delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol being found in their blood.

Authorities Hoping for Clearer Conclusions

DUI numbers are not the only area where Washington lawmakers remain perplexed about Initiative 502’s effects now that one year has passed. The law, which promised a boom in tax revenue, has only delivered a fraction of what was expected. Some experts, however, warn not to call the initiative a bust: Washington still pulled in more tax money than Colorado did in its first year. Additionally, if projections of a slowly eroding illegal pot market hold true, a tax revenue windfall for Washington is likely still forthcoming.

More accurate DUI numbers are also on the way. Staci Hoff, research director of Washington's Traffic Safety Commission, is expecting a new report that will dig deeper into recorded marijuana DUI arrest data. Specifically, separating which drivers had active THC in their blood (and were impaired) from those found only with residual THC would further illuminate just how prevalent drugged driving is now that Initiative 502 is a reality for our state.

If you have been charged with DUI or a DUI-related offense, then your choice in representation is critical. At the Law Office of Mark W. Garka, PLLC, I have been defending those accused of these crimes for more than 15 years. I know what to look for in these cases and will diligently pursue every available avenue to secure a reduction or dismissal on your behalf.

You do not have to accept a guilty plea. Contact my firm to start exploring your legal options with a trusted Washington DUI lawyer.