Why DUI laws for marijuana are so difficult to enforce

This article looks at the controversy surrounding marijuana DUI laws and drug recognition experts.

A growing number of states are legalizing either recreational or medical marijuana. In Georgia, the state has made medical marijuana legal while a number of counties have attempted to decriminalize recreational marijuana. As marijuana becomes more widely available and publicly acceptable, concerns have been raised about impaired driving caused by marijuana consumption. Enforcing current drug DUI laws is notoriously difficult and, as a recent case in Cobb County shows, could result in false arrests and civil rights infringements.

Testing for marijuana is difficult

Many states that have legalized marijuana have chosen to treat DUI by marijuana similarly to how they treat DUIs from alcohol. That is, they have set a minimum chemical threshold over which a person is considered to be too impaired to drive. Just as most states define driving with a blood-alcohol concentration level above 0.08 as being the threshold for being too drunk to drive, many states have set five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood as being too high to drive. THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that causes users to feel high.

There are two problems with this chemical threshold, however. For one, as NPR notes, there is currently no reliable breathalyzer-type device that police can use to measure how much THC is in a driver's system. Currently, blood or urine tests are the best way to measure THC. That means making quick roadside chemical tests for marijuana is almost impossible.

The second problem is that even if THC levels are properly measured, they don't necessarily reflect how impaired an individual is. A person who is a frequent marijuana user, for example, could have a THC level well above the legal threshold but still not be impaired. An infrequent marijuana user, on the other hand, may have a low THC level, but be far too impaired to drive.

Drug recognition tests flawed

With no scientifically backed way of catching drivers who are too high to drive, police have instead resorted to drug recognition experts. These experts are police officers who are specially trained to detect signs of impairment from marijuana.

However, the reliability of such experts has been questioned, with civil rights groups claiming that drug recognition experts are vulnerable to their own prejudices. Indeed, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the Cobb County police are being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after three men were arrested for driving high by a drug recognition expert. The three men were later found to have no marijuana in their systems and the ACLU claims the arrests were motivated by racial biases.

Criminal law help

Anybody who has a run-in with the law needs to reach out to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can assist clients with their case, including defending their rights and helping them fight against whatever charges they may be facing.