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5 Things to Know About a Marijuana DUI in Washington

Since Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, law enforcement in Anacortes and throughout Skagit County has been charging more drivers with driving under the influence of marijuana.  

Proponents of marijuana argue that driving while high is safer than drunk driving. And they may have a point. Nonetheless, driving while high is illegal in Washington.

Here are 5 things you need to know about a marijuana DUI in Washington.

1. You Can Be Charged with DUI for Being Under the Influence of Marijuana

Smoking marijuana causes side effects that can make driving dangerous. These side effects include drowsiness, anxiety, hallucinations, and poor judgment.

Most people are familiar with the per se legal limit to be convicted of a DUI for alcohol - a BrAC of .08% or higher. But you can also be charged with and convicted of a DUI if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

While a DUI for being under the influence of marijuana is more difficult to prove, the results are the same.

2. To Charge You With a Marijuana DUI Law Enforcement May Perform Field Sobriety Tests and May Obtain a Warrant to Test a Blood Sample

To determine whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana, police may rely on roadside sobriety tests. If you appear intoxicated police can arrest you, and they might obtain a warrant to take a blood sample to test for the presence of drugs like marijuana.

Regardless of the concentration of THC in your blood, you can be arrested if you appear too intoxicated to drive.

In order to test for the presence of THC in your blood, Washington law enforcement officers may obtain a warrant. This is usually accomplished through an email to a judge in Skagit County (other jurisdictions may differ). Once the warrant is obtained, you will be taken to a hospital to have your blood drawn.  The blood sample will subsequently be tested at the Tox Lab.

The current per se limit to be convicted of a Washington DUI for marijuana in 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. If a driver is found to have a THC concentration equal to or greater than that  amount they can be arrested and charged without any additional proof of impairment.

3. A Conviction for a Marijuana DUI Can Be Difficult Because THC Level Does Not Accurately Represent a Driver’s Level of Impairment

Despite the 5 ng/ml per se limit for marijuana DUI, it can be difficult for law enforcement to secure a conviction for a Washington DUI for marijuana without an accurate and reliable blood test result. THC level does not accurately represent a driver’s level of impairment, and can remain high even when a person is not currently under the influence of the drug, especially among long-term marijuana users.    

Currently, this means that an experienced DUI defense lawyer may be able to successfully challenge a Washington marijuana DUI on the basis that the driver was not under the influence at the time of the arrest.  Alternatively, an attorney experienced in DUI defense may be able to challenge the accuracy and reliability of the blood test result, even if you are above the legal limit for marijuana.  

Keep in mind that the amount of Carboxy-THC in your system is meaningless as far as the per se limit is concerned. When you consume marijuana you are ingesting THC into your body.  THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that makes you “high.” The THC in your body then converts to Hydroxy-THC, then to Carboxy-THC.  Carboxy-THC is an inactive metabolite of THC that can stay in your system for up to 30 days. As far as how fast THC converts to Carboxy-THC, no one can say this with any degree of scientific certainty.  Even though Carboxy-THC does not cause impairment and is specifically excluded from determining if someone is above the per se level, it can still disqualify a person from certain jail alternative programs like work crew, work release, or electronic home monitoring.  

4. The Smell of Marijuana Can Be Probable Cause to Initiate a Marijuana DUI Investigation

Also remember that you if you have been stopped, the smell of marijuana in a vehicle is enough to constitute probable cause to investigate whether you are under the influence of marijuana. This means that if you are transporting marijuana but have not consumed it, you could still be stopped under suspicion of a marijuana DUI.

If you drive with marijuana, transport it in a hermetically sealed container in your trunk or locked glove compartment.

5. Penalties for a Marijuana DUI Are The Same as a DUI for Alcohol

If you are convicted for a Washington marijuana DUI, you face the following penalties:

  • Minimum of 24 hours in jail up to 364 days in jail
  • Fines from $990.50 to $5,000
  • Minimum 90 day driver’s license suspension
  • Minimum 1-year ignition interlock device requirement
  • 2 to 5 years of probation with mandatory sanctions for driving without a valid license, driving without insurance, driving without an interlock device, testing above the per se limits for alcohol or marijuana, and refusing to submit to a breath test upon reasonable request of law enforcement

The Campbell Law Firm Defends People Accused of Marijuana DUI in Washington

If you have been charged with a marijuana DUI in Skagit County, Island County, or San Juan County, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential. Contact DUI defense attorney Justin Campbell at the Campbell Law Firm today.

Justin Campbell has helped hundreds of people in Anacortes, Mount Vernon, Burlington, and Sedro-Woolley, Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Langley, Freeland, Clinton, and Friday Harbor who have been charged with a marijuana DUI.

Call (360) 588-4111, email info@lawjrc.com, or complete our online form to schedule a free 90-minute consultation to discuss your case.

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