Is Utah’s Cannabis DUI Law Too Lenient?

Although many states have started to legalize the use of recreational cannabis, some still continue to oppose. We have previously covered the difficulties of how to effectively and accurately measure or even quantify impairment with THC levels (see Marijuana Breath Detector). And yet, there are many who refuse to see the importance in exacting the correlation between THC and impairment, and what it means for drivers who may occasionally partake.

Utah State Representative Steve Waldrip (R- Eden), is one of those people. His plan is to introduce a bill that would presume impairment in DUI cases when one has reached or exceeded a specific level of THC in their blood, and “simply mirror what happens with alcohol.” He feels that it is unfair to treat marijuana intoxication as a lesser offense than in the case of intoxication with alcohol. However, his view seems to ignore the fundamental differences between the two substances. In a previous article, we covered the difference between alcohol which is water soluble and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is fat soluble and how that affects levels found the blood stream, as well as how that affects the determination of impairment. His approach would completely ignore the scientific differences of these two substances and create a double standard in addition to the already unfair legal standard.

Waldrip’s reaction was mainly based on an accident where a driver, who tested positive for THC, hit a pedestrian on a highway and now faces misdemeanor charges. As a misdemeanor, the charge is punishable by up to six months in jail. Waldrip and the victim’s family felt that the penalty for the charge was too lenient.

According to the police report for the accident, the driver, though tested positive for THC, was driving under the speed limit of 50 mph at the time of the accident, stopped quickly, and attempted to aid. Under current Utah law, when a crash results in a serious injury or death, the offense can be charged as a felony. In this case, due to the contents of the police report, prosecutors were not able to prove impairment as the law requires evidence of impairment beyond blood test results. This was also combined with the fact that the pedestrian was found to have been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash with a blood alcohol content of 0.21 percent, over four times the legal limit in Utah.

Waldrip’s argument seems to be a double standard in how alcohol and marijuana are treated, and wants to do away with the impairment standard, ignoring the fact that driving with “any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance” in your blood is a Class B misdemeanor. Given that THC metabolizes much slower than alcohol, this current law is already unfairly skewed for cannabis users. He also conveniently ignores the fact that there are other elements of the current law that can convict without evidence of impairment. Misdemeanor DUI convictions may also trigger, upon a first offense, suspension of the driver’s license and mandatory attendance in an education program; for a second offense, minimum jail time or community service increases from two days to 10 days; and a third offense is a felony. All of these can be triggered without additional evidence of impairment. As an article by Reason pointed out, “That is the real double standard.”

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