Marijuana DUI: The Burden of Proof

marijuana DUI

All DUIs are not the same. Proving an alcohol-involved DUI is as simple as submitting a blood test or breathalyzer to the court. However, a marijuana-involved DUI is a different process. Proving that a driver’s ability was compromised by marijuana is difficult. There is no simple test for marijuana, nor are there strict guidelines for testing. With the legalization of marijuana in many states across the US, a marijuana DUI is a complicated issue. Find out why the burden of proof in marijuana DUIs is so challenging.

What is a Marijuana DUI?

In most states, a marijuana DUI is treated similarly to an alcohol DUI. While some states refer to it as drugged driving, most states issue the same penalties for impaired driving on marijuana or alcohol. You are likely to face a fine, enrollment in a drug program, and community service if you get a DUI for marijuana.

Although the penalties might be similar for both offenses, the burden of proof varies greatly. Alcohol DUIs are well-established. Every state has a legal limit for drunk driving. Any driver over that limit faces charges. To determine if a driver is impaired, a police officer can administer one of several tests. Then, the officer can use those tests in court as evidence of impaired driving.

A marijuana DUI has no such burden of proof. In the past, marijuana was completely illegal. Because of this, there was a zero-tolerance policy for driving while high. However, new laws make that zero-tolerance policy ineffective. Unfortunately, there is no way for a police officer to determine the impairment of a driver on marijuana.  Testing for marijuana is very different from testing for alcohol. The burden of proof in marijuana DUI cases is a gray area.

The Testing Troubles

Marijuana impairment is more difficult to test than alcohol impairment for several reasons. For one, it’s new territory. Drunk driving laws have been around for decades. However, marijuana has only been legal for a short time. The current laws regarding marijuana DUIs still treat offenders as if medical marijuana is illegal. There’s no precedent for legal marijuana use and driving.

The second issue is with the way that marijuana works. While alcohol goes into your blood, marijuana goes into your brain. A simple blood test cannot determine the amount of marijuana in your system. However, no one knows what test can determine that amount.

And that’s where the third issue comes into play. Although scientists are working on a test for marijuana DUIs, they can’t agree on an impairment value. It’s difficult for them to say what amount of marijuana makes for an impaired driver. With alcohol DUIs, that value is firm at a blood alcohol content of .08%. However, that value doesn’t work for marijuana.

The final challenge is the way that marijuana works. Some people choose to smoke it. In this case, it affects your mind quickly. Others choose to ingest it. When this occurs, it can take hours for the drug to affect you. If you drive before any impairment occurs, you don’t deserve to face a DUI charge. There needs to be a way to determine whether impairment occurred. Scientists have their hands full trying to come up with an effective way to test for marijuana.

The Current Situation

There are current ways to test for the presence of marijuana in a driver’s system. However, it has several faults. First, it is very invasive. It requires you to provide a urine sample or a blood test. Unlike a breathalyzer, this can leave you feeling violated.

Secondly, the tests are inaccurate. Labs can test your urine for carboxy THC. Because this chemical is the most abundant in marijuana, labs can easily detect its presence in urine. However, there is no link between the amount of carboxy THC and impairment. Carboxy THC can stay in your system for up to a month after using marijuana. As a result, you could test positive for marijuana, but you could be completely sober. With the test, it’s impossible to tell when you used marijuana.

The other testing method test for THC in your blood. Like the urine test, this one is also inaccurate. It measures the amount of a specific THC component in your blood. In some states, you can get a marijuana DUI for having a certain amount of that component in your blood. However, everyone reacts differently to THC. One person could have a high level of THC and show no signs of impairment. Meanwhile, someone else could have that same level and show several signs of impairment. While the court might accept this test, it’s not always accurate.

Proving Marijuana DUIs

As society changes, the laws need to change. The legalization of marijuana was a major change, but the laws did not yet catch up to it. With no effective way to prove the impairment of a driver on marijuana, a prosecutor may not have enough evidence against you. If you hire an experienced lawyer, you may be able to fight your charge.