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Marijuana DUI Charges in Washington

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  1. What is a marijuana DUI?
  2. What are the laws for marijuana DUI in Washington?
  3. How can I avoid a marijuana DUI?
  4. How do police test for marijuana during DUI stops?
  5. How is a marijuana DUI different from an alcohol DUI?

1. What is a marijuana DUI?

With the legalization of marijuana in Washington State, one of the biggest public concerns is how the more widespread use will affect public safety, particularly in relation to DUI cases. It's important to understand how marijuana impacts a driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

When we consume alcohol, our level of impairment directly corresponds to our blood alcohol. Likewise, when individuals are unimpaired and capable of driving safely, our blood alcohol will reflect this. However, when people smoke marijuana, it creates THC in the blood that is also measurable. However, unlike alcohol which is metabolized as you sober up, THC remains in the blood long after the “high” feeling is gone. This means you can test positive for marijuana DUI impairment even if you feel fine.

Unlike alcohol, there really isn't a field sobriety test that can gauge your legal level of impairment. If an officer suspects marijuana impairment, he or she may have you taken to the hospital for a THC blood test, and the results can take weeks or months. Refusing the blood test may come with huge sanctions.

The threshold for THC in your blood to make a legal determination of impairment is VERY small. The moral of the story is, if you smoke pot, do not drive.

2. What are the laws for marijuana DUI in Washington?

Washington State already had laws against driving under the influence of marijuana, but the burden was on the prosecutor to prove that the officer's suspicions of impairment meant that the driver was under the influence of marijuana.

Now a driver is presumptively guilty of the crime of marijuana DUI if you have 5 nanograms or more of THC in your blood. The problem with this, as opposed to alcohol, is that you can be over the limit long after the effects have depleted. With this type of testing being so new, it is hard to determine the amount of time you should wait before driving, and there is no home THC blood test kit to determine the level, as of yet.

Unfortunately for many marijuana users, they do not realize just how low the threshold of active THC in the blood must be present for a person to be considered “under the influence.” With levels as low as 0.5 nanograms as being considered to cause impairment, many drivers are unexpectedly finding themselves under arrest for driving under the influence of pot.

The level of alcohol in your blood is proportionate to your level of impairment. However with marijuana, though the “high” feeling may have dissipated, the THC can remain in your system and continue to trigger positive test results, even if you feel fine. While blood tests can prove whether you truly had enough active THC in your system for impairment, this requires a hospital blood test and potentially months of waiting on results.

What is the bottom line when it comes to driving under the influence of weed? First, if you do decide to smoke marijuana, do not get behind the wheel. However, if you have been arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana, you need an experienced Snohomish County DUI defense lawyer who is experienced in handling complex DUI cases. The Law Office of Mark W. Garka, PLLC has the knowledge, experience, and resources you need to help you get through this situation.

3. How can I avoid a marijuana DUI?

Initiative 502 passed, but be careful before you run out and celebrate. There are still several things to consider before you begin recreational use.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid a Marijuana DUI:

  • Don't smoke and drive - This one seems pretty simple, but you should give yourself some extra time after the effects have worn off to reduce the risk of being over the limit.
  • Never drive with a cannabis-friendly bumper sticker - This will attract unwanted attention and will almost always ensure that you will be stopped.
  • Do a quick inspection of your vehicle, making sure there are no obvious problems, like broken taillights -This is another one that will get you pulled over quickly, and with the cannabis laws being so new, it may be harder to get out of this stop with a simple warning.
  • Make sure that you do not smell like cannabis when you leave the home - Use deodorant, perfume, etc., even if you haven't smoked in hours. The slightest scent could give the officer reason to test your blood, and to assume you'll be above the 5, or 0ng/ml limits.
  • Be cautious when driving with any amount of cannabis on your person, even if it's under an ounce - Possessing even a gram is enough probable cause for an officer to search you, and give you a THC blood test.

4. How do police test for marijuana during DUI stops?

The law says that officers are supposed to focus solely on active marijuana and not inactive marijuana. This is another example of how a law that is meant to protect your rights can really end up costing you. The only way to prove that marijuana is inactive is to have a blood test done at the hospital. Receiving the results of these tests can take weeks or even months.

Most courts give you the right to refuse the test, but the consequences can be quite severe. If you are suspected of driving under the influence of pot, an officer who is trained in drug recognition, referred to as a “drug recognition expert,” will determine if you have been impaired due to drugs other than alcohol. It is easy to see why most people would elect not to undergo these tests, because you have no way of determining how much of an “expert” the officer really is, or how they can make an accurate decision based on slightly abnormal actions.

Being sick or having a lack of sleep can often result in some of the actions that can appear similar to being impaired by marijuana, and if you smoked in the last day or so, there is a good chance you could end up in jail. Rather than receiving a marijuana DUI, it would be better to refuse the initial test, right? Not so fast. As soon as you are asked to do anything such as take a drug test or answer any questions beyond your name, address, etc., be sure to call a Snohomish DUI attorney. Typically, refusing these tests will earn you a driver's license suspension for a year or longer, and with the implied consent law, may be used as an admission of guilt.

5. How is a marijuana DUI different from an alcohol DUI?

While Washington State has become one of the first states to legalize marijuana, both the law and public awareness are struggling to cope with how this legalization affects our DUI laws, and driving while under the influence of marijuana is a murky issue.

Unlike alcohol, the active chemicals of marijuana remain in our system long after the “high” feeling has disappeared. This means that we have no way of gauging whether we could possibly test positive for driving under the influence of weed. The implication of this is that, even if you feel fine, you could be in danger of getting a DUI if you drive after smoking weed.

To further complicate matters, officers have no easy field tests in regards to assessing measurable impairment. Unlike alcohol impairment, which can be objectively measured by the use of a breathalyzer in conjunction with field sobriety tests, marijuana impairment requires you to submit to a hospital blood test, which can take months to receive the results. While your first inclination may be to refuse a blood test, that in itself can carry enormous sanctions under the law.

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Make sure your rights are protected and that you get treated fairly by hiring a qualified attorney with experience handling DUI cases in Washington State. I help DUI defendants protect their rights and ensure fair treatment. The legal system is tricky, but with my guidance, you will understand the full implications of your situation and identify the steps you will need to take next.

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