According to a Washington state police officer, state trooper and toxicologist, there hasn’t been any noticeable increase in arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana since a bill legalizing small amounts of marijuana went into effect in December.
The three testified before the Washington House Public Safety Committee yesterday as part of the ongoing discussion/implementation of Initiative 502, which legalized possession and consumption of up to an ounce of marijuana (as well as edibles and other “infused products”) for adults over 21. The law also set a blood-THC limit of five nanograms for every milliliter of whole blood – a level many said was too low to take into account higher tolerances for medical marijuana patients.
|Washington State Trooper Lt. Rob Sharpe testifies Wednesday.|
The committee’s job is to iron out any kinks in the system to keep this mythical rash of stoned-to-the-point-of-impairment drivers off the road. That’s not to say that such things don’t happen. They do. In fact, about one in six people arrested for driving while intoxicated involve marijuana according to Washington State Toxicologist Fiona Couper, who also testified. On average, those cases are higher than the .5 nanogram limit, she said. But she also noted that some cases are much higher, into the 70s and 80s. Even then, about half of the cases involving marijuana usually have something else in the mix that could be impairing driving, like booze or meth.
Most DUI stops, according to Olympia police officer Brian Wiley, are for alcohol. “It’s by far the most dominant influence at my municipal level.” Wiley’s testimony was also interesting for other reasons, including his position that passengers have every right to be puffing tough. He talks about how he wouldn’t necessarily pull someone over simply for seeing them holding a joint. He equated it to seeing them holding a beer, which is a $75 open container ticket: just because someone is holding the beer doesn’t mean they are drunk.
“If a person drives by me and there’s a bunch of smoke pouring out the window, no I can’t pull them over for that,” Wiley testified. “It might make me wonder, and I might pull in behind them and see how they are operating their car that day. But it doesn’t give me probable cause to stop them.”
Much of the discussion focused on how long marijuana would stay in people’s system (it varies) and how long people remain impaired. Several attorneys testified that DUI cases involving just marijuana were rare, and that most involved alcohol.
Then there was the testimony from Dr. Marilyn Huestis, who apparently studies cannabis and it’s effects on the human body. She refuted what Sewell said, adding that her quackery research shows that impairment can last up to 21 days after using marijuana based on “residual THC in the brain”. Thankfully there are huge bodies of cannabinoid science refute what she says, including work from Yale University scientists like Andrew Sewell.
Sewell, who told the committee that there is no direct link between blood THC levels and how impaired someone might be. Getting stoned drivers off the road, he says, isn’t going to be accomplished with arbitrary blood levels. (Editors note: can someone get Sewell to talk to legislators in Colorado?)