Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. Three other states will soon join them after recently passing measures permitting the use of medical marijuana. While states are all scrambling to address issues regarding cultivation, dispensing, possession, taxation and legislation, it is still illegal to possess marijuana at the federal level, or to transport marijuana from state to state. More importantly, in every state, it is still a crime to drive under the influence of any drug, including marijuana.
The cannabis plant producing marijuana contains naturally-occuring toxins, particularly the chemical compound THC, tetrahydrocannabinol. When injested or inhaled, THC attaches to the fatty tissues, i.e. the brain, binding to specific receptors in the brain called cannabinoid receptors. In low doses, THC causes some pain reduction, may reduce aggression, can stimulate appetite, and help reduce nausea. Higher doses may cause the “high” associated with marijuana, leading to altered perception of time and space, or feelings of fatigue – conditions that are ultra dangerous to driving a motor vehicle.
THC is not the only toxin contained in that marijuana joint. According to an article published in the Smithsonian magazine, cannabis is often contaminated with fungi, pesticides and heavy metals. Washington, the second state to legalize recreational marijuana, requires testing for microbial agents like E. coli, salmonella and yeast mold.
Manufacturers may employ potentially harmful compounds like butane to produce concentrates, stripping the cannabis plant of most everything but THC. Tests also show that marijuana plants can draw in heavy metals from the soil in which they are grown, and concentrating THC can increase the amounts of heavy metals, pesticides or other substances that end up in a product. The problem rests in the lack of any watchdog organization to regulate production, and the contribution any additives might have in increasing the effect cannabis has on a driver’s capabilities that might lead to a DUI drugs, DUID, drugged driving, or driving under the influence of marijuana or any combination of drugs.
Most states classify a DUID as an offense with the same consequences as driving under the influence of alcohol. Driving under the influence of drugs and driving under the influence of alcohol are very similar. Both affect the nervous system in a way where drivers are impaired and in an altered state of consciousness. However, there are significant differences between the two offenses when being charged, as there are no guidelines for blood alcohol concentration of cannabis products, whether ingested or inhaled, because THC can dissipate from the blood but still be present in the brain. In order for a person to be considered “driving under the influence” of a drug, it must have such an effect on a person so that their mental or physical abilities are so impaired that “a driver is no longer able to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.” Never mind that in some states, a driver can legally use marijuana with a physician prescription; if he or she is impaired, they can be charged with driving under the influence of a drug. The same holds true for prescription medication and over-the-counter products such as Benadryl or Nyquil.
A DUID is also quite different from an alcohol-related DUI in terms of the potential consequences from the DMV. If a person is arrested because of an alcohol-related DUI, the department or bureau of motor vehicles can suspend their license if the person refuses field sobriety tests including breath, blood or urine testing, or if there is a BAC above .08%. In DUID situations, there is no actual amount of drugs that can cause an “administrative suspension”. The DMV can still impose a suspension if the person is convicted of any DUI charge in criminal court.