Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Despite Doomsday Predictions, No Change to Pot DUI Cases in WA After New Legalization Law

Posted by on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 2:53 PM

When Initiative 502 was on the ballot last fall to legalize pot, the medical marijuana lobby screeched that a new threshold for driving high would give cops the ammo they needed to sweep the roads for innocent stoners. They claimed, without scientific evidence to back them up, that people who smoked pot a week before would be unjustly sent to the slammer after I-502 passed.


The Washington State House's Public Safety Committee is holding a hearing right now on drivers impaired by marijuana and the prominent testimony is that nothing much has changed. The law established 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood as the impairment threshold for drivers. (You can watch live on TVW.)

Thus far, Rob Sharpe of the state patrol has been talking about potential use of saliva tests to to determine intoxication levels (instead of blood draws in medical facilities, as state law has long prescribed for marijuana DUIs).

But prosecutors say that they've seen no notable shift in marijuana DUI cases since the measure took effect in December. Rachel Cormier Anderson, a lawyer in the Seattle City Attorney's office, says, "I-502 hasn't changed much. We have been filing marijuana DUIs since forever. We have not in the City of Seattle received a marijuana DUI since the law went into effect." She adds that prosecutors are waiting on lab results in a couple cases.

Amy Freedheim of the King County Prosecutor's Office also says their practices have not changed since the law passed—the office charged pot DUI cases before the initiative passed and they continue to. "We look at the totality of an incident," says Freedheim, citing the circumstances of the crash and condition of the driver, not just the THC levels in drivers. She adds that collecting a blood sample within two hours of an arrest (while active THC levels are highest) will be challenging. Two cases have been filed in King County since the per se standard in I-502—that 5 nanogram limit—went into effect, she says.

Patricia Fulton, a defense attorney, adds that she has not seen any change in marijuana DUI cases in her practice.

Upcoming: discussion about science on driving under the influence of marijuana. (I've written about pot DUIs to death over here.)


Comments (10) RSS

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I'd be interested in seeing the figures from Spokane, Grant, and Washington's other red state counties before I drew a firm conclusion one way or the other about the effect of I-502 on DUI prosecution numbers.
Posted by Mr. X on February 6, 2013 at 4:09 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 2
So did they talk about the actual science or just the patients cherry-picked by docs that write referrals?
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on February 6, 2013 at 4:13 PM · Report this
Everyone, and I do mean literally everyone, is utterly oblivious to the fact that I-502 -- and as a result, now state law -- SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDES THE LONG-HALFLIFE FORM OF THC from the 5ng/L measurement.

The constant screeching that 5ng/L of THC stays in the blood for many weeks and therefore I-502 will put people in jail for driving three weeks after smoking a joint is FLAT OUT BULLSHIT.…
Posted by K on February 6, 2013 at 4:31 PM · Report this
raku 4
I think you misunderstood the argument about pot DUI's. Legalization opponents were using an acronym- they were worried about "Protecting-ridiculously-huge-medical-marijuana-profits Oh Toot Dubba Ubba Iiiiiii's".
Posted by raku on February 6, 2013 at 5:01 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 5
What I worry about are WSP drones carrying bags of Cheetos to bust drivers with.

The science is still being worked on, so hopefully the measures will be fine tuned over the next few years.
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 6, 2013 at 5:07 PM · Report this
Some studies show that some drivers perform better while cannabis influenced. Similar data exists for airline pilots and nuclear power workers. These are considered valid studies. Peer reviewed, published and in some cases, replicated.
Posted by pupuguru on February 6, 2013 at 8:51 PM · Report this
@6: the same exists for alcohol, though. A couple drinks can tighten reflexes and awareness in some drivers. I still don't think it's something that should be encouraged.

You drink, you smoke, you stay home or get a designated driver. Stock up on snacks BEFORE partaking.
Posted by NateMan on February 7, 2013 at 7:23 AM · Report this
watchout5 8
"She adds that prosecutors are waiting on lab results in a couple cases."

Isn't one of those cases in regards to a guy who hit a pedestrian in the crosswalk while stoned, admitted to being stoned and then the pedestrian died? If there's a poster child for what it means to get a marijuana DUI in Washington state I really don't think people have much to worry about.
Posted by watchout5 on February 7, 2013 at 8:53 AM · Report this
jezbian 9
back in the 80s i worked as an assistant at defensive driving school, and amongst the videos the students had to watch as part of their education was one that i think should be re-done for the current era. (i think it was probably made in the very late 70s or very early 80s)

basically it was a highway patrol-supervised driving test. i want to say it was done in california. there was a flat course that had to be driven by the participants a few times - first while stone cold sober. then following a certain amount of alcohol, then again with more alcohol. each person was filmed in conversation before and after each run, and a highway patrol member was in the passenger side of the car with similar controls that a driving instructor would have. the course looked similar to the large areas the mythbusters use for most of their experiments with moving vehicles.

as soon as 502 made it onto the ballot and i have been watching the multitude of discussions about the pros and cons of the DUI part of the initiative cum law i had a dream that the stranger would partner with the washington state patrol in running a similar test but with the subjects smoking/vaping and/or eating cannabis. heck if possible the test could span two days - first day test them sober, then after some alcohol. second day test them (sober again? then) on cannabis. film it all, measure what can be measured, get it on film, and let people watch for themselves.

i have been trying to locate the name of the original video from the 80s online to no avail. i found one link to a study that was done in israel a few years ago that was completed in a simulator:…

anyone else interested in seeing something like that done here now that 502 has passed?
Posted by jezbian on February 7, 2013 at 10:51 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 10
@1: Are you expecting anything specific?
Posted by undead ayn rand on February 12, 2013 at 6:48 PM · Report this

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