DUI Cannabis and Sobriety Tests Hard to Prove

May 28th, 2014 at 11:32 am

If arrested for DUI Cannabis and given a sobriety test, you might be able to pass even if you are high as a kite, according to an article in the New York Times. The article cites to several studies that support that alcohol-based field sobriety tests are not valid for proving someone is under the influence of cannabis. Her are some excerpts:

If you are pulled over on suspicion of drunken driving, the police officer is likely to ask you to complete three tasks: Follow a pen with your eyes while the officer moves it back and forth; get out of the car and walk nine steps, heel to toe, turn on one foot and go back; and stand on one leg for 30 seconds.

“In a 2012 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology, only 30 percent of people under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, failed the field test. And its ability to identify a stoned driver seems to depend heavily on whether the driver is accustomed to being stoned.

“A 21-year-old on his first bender and a hardened alcoholic will both wobble on one foot. But the same is not necessarily true of a driver who just smoked his first joint and the stoner who is high five days a week. In another study, 50 percent of the less frequent smokers failed the field test.

Photo

Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin in the film “Up in Smoke.” In one study, only 30 percent of drivers who had smoked marijuana failed a sobriety test. Credit: Everett Collection

“A 2007 study found that 12 percent of the drivers randomly stopped on American highways on Friday and Saturday nights had been drinking. (In return for taking part in the study, intoxicated drivers were told they would not be arrested, just taken home.)

Six percent of the drivers tested positive for marijuana — a number that is likely to go up with increased availability. Some experts and officials are concerned that the campaign against drunken driving has not gotten through to marijuana smokers.

The article continues:

“Still, it is clear that marijuana use causes deficits that affect driving ability, Dr. Huestis said. She noted that several researchers, working independently of one another, have come up with the same estimate: a twofold increase in the risk of an accident if there is any measurable amount of THC in the bloodstream.

“There is a lot of debate about how best to prove that drivers under the influence of THC are too intoxicated to drive. Blood-alcohol content can be reliably tested on the side of the road with a Breathalyzer, and ample data link rising levels of blood alcohol to decreases in driving skills. The same is not true for marijuana.

“THC levels must be measured from blood or urine samples, which are typically taken hours after an arrest. Urine tests, which look for a metabolite of THC rather than the drug itself, return a positive result days or weeks after someone has actually smoked. Yet most states have laws that equate any detectable level of THC metabolite in urine with detectable levels of actual THC in blood, and criminalize both. Only six states have set legal limits for THC concentration in the blood. In Colorado and Washington, where recreational use has been legalized, that limit is five nanograms per milliliter of blood, or five parts per billion.

Illinois will need to prepare for this challenge. Present law on the subject states that field sobriety tests ARE proof of impairment from alcohol; a declaration made by uninformed legislators who were misled by the lobbyist who drafted the bill. No doubt, legal challenges will arise from this law, but we are likley stuck with it because the lobbying industry was more concerned about their own money fortunes than the rights of the motoring public.

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