Category Archives: Drugged Driving
In April of 2015 I wrote about Assembly Bill 1356, written by Assemblyman Tom Lackey from Palmdale, California, which would have allowed law enforcement to use a device similar to a breathalyzer that could detect the presence of marijuana and a number of other drugs in a driver’s system.
That bill however, failed to pass the Assembly Public Safety Committee the following May because of reliability concerns.
However, with the passing of Proposition 64 which allowed the use of recreational marijuana in California, Lackey who is a former sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, has introduced a new bill similar to that of the failed AB1356.
The newly proposed Assembly Bill 6 would allow tests using saliva samples taken from drivers suspected of driving under the influence. The test would let the officer know whether a driver has recently used a number of drugs including marijuana.
“The ballot initiative passed this year to legalize marijuana will result in more marijuana consumers on our state’s highways and roads,” Lackey said in a statement. “It is imperative that we invest in a broad spectrum of technologies and research to best identify marijuana-impaired drivers.”
The measure is supported by Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Assn.
“Our federal partners have demonstrated the efficacy of oral fluid testing, and we look forward to utilizing the technology at a state level,” Corney said in a statement.
While the current devices referred to by Corney tests for the presence of drugs, it does not test for drug quantity nor impairment of the driver.
There is an established correlation between blood alcohol content, specifically the legal limit of 0.08 percent, and alcohol impairment. Unlike alcohol, however, there is no such correlation between the presence of drugs and impairment. In other words, a person can have traces of drug in their system without being impaired by that drug.
Marijuana, for example, can stay in a person’s system for weeks following the smoking or ingesting of the marijuana and well after the person was intoxicated or stoned. The purpose of DUI laws is to prevent impaired driving, not to punish sober and unintoxicated people merely because they ingested drugs at some point in the past.
It is unclear how the presence of a drug may affect the subsequent arrest or DUI case since presence doesn’t necessarily mean impairment. Until we can establish a correlation with drugs including marijuana like we have with alcohol, namely the correlation between quantity and impairment, we shouldn’t be using pushing for laws like this.
Assembly Bill 6 will be brought up for a vote early next year.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how California DUI law could be affected generally should voters pass Proposition 64 this coming November.
If you haven’t read it, here’s the gist:
If Prop. 64 is approved, California would legalize recreational marijuana this November 8th. As the sixth largest economy in the world and an already existing thriving medical marijuana market, it is estimated that the marijuana industry could become a $6 billion industry by 2020.
While THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana that is detected in cases of DUI of marijuana, there is no way to determine how impaired someone is regardless of how much THC is in their system Unlike alcohol, there is not an established correlation between THC and impairment. As a result, a number of companies are racing to create a roadside test to determine impairment of marijuana rather than just presence of THC.
If Prop. 64 passes, there are many more questions that need answering. One of these questions is whether we will see more marijuana-DUI traffic collisions.
The Los Angeles Times consulted with Beau Kilmer, senior researcher at RAND Corp. specializing in drug policy and co-author of the book “Marijuana Legalization” to ask the very same question.
The Los Angeles Times made mention of the fact that AAA announced last week that it was opposing efforts to legalize marijuana in California and Maine citing statistics showing an increase in marijuana related fatal collisions in Washington, a recreational marijuana state. While AAA opposed Prop. 64, it also conceded, “While the data analyzed for the study did not include enough information to determine which driver was at fault in a given crash.”
To this Kilmer responded, “The bulk of the research suggests that driving drunk is worse than driving stoned, but driving stoned is worse than driving sober. The research suggests that when people are under the influence of both marijuana and alcohol, it does increase the probability of getting into a crash.”
But, he added, “If you are going to be objective about this and you really want to know how marijuana legalization is going to affect traffic safety, you don’t just look at the number of people in crashes who are testing positive for THC. You want to look at total crashes and total accidents. It might be the case that yeah, more people are driving stoned, but some of them are now less likely to drive drunk.”
Kilmer added that the studies are not definitive.
Kilmer’s statements are correct in that, if we are to be objective about this, we can’t just look at AAA’s cited statistic. Just because a person has THC in their system at the time of a collision does not mean that the person is driving under the influence. What’s more, it may be that the amount DUI of alcohol related collisions have reduced since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington.
Law enforcement continues to be frustrated in trying to prove that a possibly impaired driver is under the influence of marijuana (so-called “stoned driving”).
As recent posts on this blog have pointed out, the simple fact is that there is no scientifically valid method for measuring marijuana and its effect. The current method involves drawing a blood sample from the person after the suspect is arrested and analyzing it for marijuana — or, more accurately, for the presence and amounts of the active ingredient, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), in the blood.
But there are two primary problems with this. First, the marijuana measured may well be inactive and still present in the body from ingestion days or even weeks earlier. Second, there is no generally accepted scientific evidence as to what levels of THC can cause sufficient impairment to the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. See, for example, my previous post Identifying and Proving DUI Marijuana (“Stoned Driving”).
The latest attempts for a quick-and-easy way to prove “stoned driving” involve developing a “marijuana breathalyzer” — a device that will test for THC on the breath, as is done for alcohol with current breathalyzers. To date, these have proven inaccurate and unreliable. See previous posts Can Breathalyzers Measure Marijuana? and Is a Marijuana Breathalyzer in the Offing?
Today, a company claims to have finally developed the long-hoped-for answer to law enforcement’s dilemma…
Pot Breathalyzer Hits the Street
U.S. News & World Report. Sept. 14 – American police have for the first time used a marijuana breathalyzer to evaluate impaired drivers, the company behind the pioneering device declared Tuesday, saying it separately confirmed its breath test can detect recent consumption of marijuana-infused food.
The two apparent firsts allow Hound Labs to move forward with plans to widely distribute its technology to law enforcement in the first half of next year, says CEO Mike Lynn. Lynn, an emergency room doctor in Oakland, California, also is a reserve officer with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and he helped pull over drivers in the initial field tests, none of whom were arrested after voluntarily breathing into the handheld contraption…
The technology, if all goes according to plan, will be welcomed by both sides of the pot legalization debate, those who fear drugged drivers and reformers outraged that pot users in some jurisdictions are subjectively detained and forced to undergo blood tests that don’t prove impairment, especially in frequent users….
There’s a two-part testing challenge now: confirming with laboratory equipment that the device gives accurate results, and then correlating specific measurements (given in picograms of THC) with levels of intoxication, a challenge that will include sending stoned drivers on an obstacle course — something already done informally….
Hound Labs, of course, isn’t the only company that sees an opening as U.S. states increasingly regulate sales of marijuana for recreational or medical use, but it is ahead of the curve, beating another company aiming to introduce a marijuana breathalyzer, Cannabix Technologies….
Hmmmm…..Might there a conflict of interest when the CEO is a reserve police officer involved in field testing his own product? And how can an indirect analysis of THC on the breath done in the field be more reliable and accurate than directly analyzing it in the blood in a laboratory?
Profit and politics has always trumped science and truth in the DUI field. See my post DUI Laws Overrule Scientific Truth.
It would not be a surprise to many if California was the next state to legalize recreational marijuana with Proposition 64. If approved, California would follow the heels of Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and the District of Columbia. California is among five states to vote on the legalization of recreational marijuana this November 8th. As the sixth largest economy in the world and an already existing thriving medical marijuana market, it is estimated that the marijuana industry could become a $6 billion industry by 2020.
In 2010, voters failed to pass Proposition 19, which would have legalized recreational marijuana, by a 53.5% majority of vote. So do California voters have the same sentiment six years later? Current polls show support for the passing of Proposition 64 by 60% or more, making it the initiative most likely to pass on the ballot.
Since Proposition 64 is likely to pass, it would be appropriate to discuss how it might affect California DUIs and California DUI law.
California Vehicle Code section 23152(e) makes it illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs including marijuana. Unlike California’s DUI of alcohol law, there is no legal limit for marijuana, or more specifically, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive component of marijuana. Therefore, a person can only be arrested and convicted of a marijuana DUI if the ingestion of marijuana impairs a person’s ability to drive a vehicle as a sober person would under similar circumstances.
To prove that a person is driving under the influence of marijuana, a prosecutor can use officer observations of driving patterns, observations during the traffic stop, performance on field sobriety tests, and the presence of THC in any blood test done.
Since “under the influence” is an extremely subjective standard, it is often very difficult to prosecute DUI of marijuana cases. This is especially true if the driver refused to perform the field sobriety tests and/or the officer did not observe driving that would be indicative of someone who is under the influence of marijuana.
If proposition 64 is passed, law makers could seek some sort of per se limit for how much THC can be in a person’s blood while driving. Several states have set a per se limit of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Colorado, has set a five nanogram per milliliter of blood limit to allow for the presumption that a person is “under the influence.” Unfortunately, current per se limits for THC, however, are an inaccurate measure of how impaired a person is.
Unlike alcohol, THC is fat soluble and remains in a user’s system long after they have ingested the marijuana, sometimes by several weeks. This creates the possibility of being arrested with five nanograms of THC in the system weeks after a person has smoked marijuana and well after the “high” is gone. Yet, because the THC is present, a person can either be arrested or, in Colorado, presumed to be under the influence.
In June of last year, Cannabix Technologies Inc., a Vancouver based company announced the testing of a prototype marijuana breathalyzer. The company says that the breathalyzer will be able to test whether a person has ingested alcohol within the past two hours. Although the machine will not test for a quantitative amount of THC, it will provide a timeframe for marijuana usage, which is a better indicator of impairment that nanograms of THC in a person’s blood.
In April of this year, the California state legislature awarded UCSD’s cannabis research center $1.8 million to study THC impairment and develop an accurate roadside test for marijuana impairment.
While an accurate test for marijuana impairment may be in the offing, nothing yet exists to provide lawmakers with the ability to create an accurate per se level. Until that happens, which may be before pot shops open up in January of 2018 if Proposition 64 is passed, law enforcement and prosecutors will have to continue to rely on California’s flimsy standard of “under the influence.”
While we’ve been on the topic of DUI of marijuana, it only seemed appropriate to talk about some of the legal defenses that may be raised with this charge.
Just like with a DUI of alcohol, the officer must have probable cause to believe that you are driving while under the influence before he or she can arrest you. The officer has probable cause when they have apparent and trustworthy facts that would lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that the driver is driving under the influence. The information that officers use to “find” probable cause is poor driving, the smell of marijuana, blood shot watery eyes, slowed speech, poor performance on field sobriety tests, and admissions by drivers that they have ingested marijuana. Only after a lawful arrest must a driver submit to a chemical test. If an officer makes an unlawful arrest because they didn’t have probable cause, the results of a chemical test showing the presence of marijuana should be inadmissible.
This is precisely why I always advise my clients to not say anything to law enforcement and decline field sobriety tests. Not only is it your right to do so, it preserves the argument that the arrest was unlawful and therefore evidence of marijuana use from a chemical test is inadmissible.
While the defense of an unlawful arrest applies to both DUI of alcohol and DUI of marijuana, there are a few defenses that are unique to a DUI of marijuana.
Unlike alcohol, Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana stays is a user’s system long after ingestion. Therefore, a person can test positive for THC well after the person smoked marijuana and well after the person was intoxicated, sometimes as much as weeks afterwards.
There is a strong correlation between blood alcohol content and intoxication. In other words, law enforcement knows that if a person has, for example, a blood alcohol content of 0.12 percent, it is highly likely that the person is intoxicated and unfit to drive a vehicle. The correlation between THC and intoxication, on the other hand, is not as clear. THC is measured in nanograms per milliliter of blood. For example, Colorado, which have legalized recreational marijuana, has made it illegal to drive with 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. A person, however, can have 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in their system weeks after smoking marijuana and certainly well after the person is unfit to drive. Therefore, there is the defense that you are not driving under the influence of marijuana even though you may have THC in your system.
Should California approve the roadside test to determine whether a person has ingested marijuana “recently,” prosecutors still need to prove that the use of marijuana actually impaired a person’s ability to drive to secure a DUI of marijuana conviction. If the driver refuses field sobriety tests, there’s not much evidence, other than the driving pattern, that a person’s ability to drive was impaired. Therefore, another realistic defense is that the person’s driving was not impaired even though they had recently smoked marijuana.
In any event, hiring a qualified California DUI attorney is essential to be able to successfully assert any of the aforementioned legal defenses to a California DUI of marijuana charge. As you can see, they are quite complex and I’ve only scratched the surface.