Marijuana is a mind-altering substance that is unsafe for driving. Consuming cannabis can lead to a similar fate to driving while intoxicated from alcohol – a DUI from cannabis, accompanied by plenty of hefty fines and needless regret.
Many people don't see weed as harmful when they get behind the wheels of their cars. In an attempt to survey Coloradans on how they perceive smoking and driving, CDOT conducted a study. Based on their research, 69 percent of cannabis users said they've driven high within the past year.
Here are the initial statistics, based on responses from more than 11,000 anonymous cannabis users and non-users across the state:
27 percent admitted to driving high almost daily
40 percent of recreational users and 34 percent of medical users don't think their driving ability is affected by cannabis
10 percent of all users think marijuana helps them drive better
CDOT's numbers also speak quite clearly: 2016 recorded 51 fatalities involving drivers with active THC in their blood above the legal (five nanogram) limit. The state aims to use this data to facilitate more conversations educating users about cannabis use when driving. CDOT hopes this will limit the number of people who will say they’ve gotten a DUI form cannabis.
Impairment due to any substance is dangerous. When it comes to cannabis, there are adverse effects. Marijuana, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), can affect a number of skills that are required for safe driving. Cannabis causes:
- Slow reaction times and a longer amount of time it takes to make a decision
- Poor coordination
- Distorted perception
- Temporary memory loss
- Reduction in problem-solving abilities
While it's been noted that combining weed with other substances like alcohol heightens the danger, smoking pot before driving can lead to dangerous outcomes all on its own.
DUI From Cannabis
In states with legalized marijuana, there are laws to ensure the safety of both users and non-users alike on the road. In states like Colorado, a driver is considered under the influence of cannabis if the THC level in their blood is equivalent to five nanograms or higher, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).
Five nanograms? While that might seem like a hard amount to quantify (it is, especially compared to alcohol's BAC measurement system, which translates very literally into the amount of booze ingested), many law enforcement professions have a simple way to test: If you have any weed in your system, you probably should not drive.
Regardless of the blood's THC level, police officers are able to base their arrests on observed impairment. If they see a driver who they think is acting high, they are well within their rights to bring them in and place them under arrest.
While it may be 100 percent okay for you to smoke, apply, or eat your weed both medically and legally (depending on where you live), it is illegal for you to be impaired while driving in every single state.
How Can They Tell?
When someone is pulled over, there is a specific procedure in place for police officers to tell if the driver worthy of a DUI from cannabis. There are two ways for the police to judge: observed impairment and chemical testing.
In Colorado, officers are trained specifically to look for impairment caused by drugs, often through an advanced roadside training program (ARIDE). Additionally, legalized states also have facilitated training for Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) to spot those that shouldn't be driving, with a large focus on cannabis. Essentially, they are looking for the signs, observing the driver's behaviors to make their call.
After an initial analysis of the driver's behavior, law enforcement officers are then able to test their blood for additional proof.
Many states, including weed-legal Colorado, have implied consent. This means that when drivers enter their car, they automatically comply to breath, blood, and chemical tests when asked by a police officer. If there is reasonable cause, a driver can't dispute without facing serious consequences. Immediately they are considered a high-risk driver, which will lead to license suspension, alcohol education, and therapy, effective upon refusal of taking the test.
These impairment tests are chemical, looking at blood, breath, or urine. With marijuana, a blood test is the best way to test for active THC and is more reliable to prove in court than observational testing. It tests the blood throughout the entire body, and if there's more than that 5 nanograms of THC, the driver faces impaired driving charges – aka, a DUI from weed.
A DUI from weed has consequences. In Colorado, the first offense leads to a minimum five days in jail, between $600 – $1,000 fine, between 24 and 48 hours of public service, and a probationary period of up to two years.
As the number of offenses increase, so does the punishment. Someone can be imprisoned between 60 consecutive days and a year, with a hefty $600 – $1500 fine.
The Bottom Line
Don't risk getting a DUI from cannabis – do not consume and drive. Instead, stock up on your marijuana and plan an evening in. Get your weed delivered, arrange for a ride, or call a sober friend before getting behind the wheel high.