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In 2012, both Colorado and WashingtonState legalized marijuana for recreational use. However, any kind of drugs, including marijuana, are still illegal while driving, at work, and nearly anywhere else.

However, because the drug is now legal in the state, law enforcement officials are concerned that the number of individuals driving under the influence of weed will increase.

Current drug laws

Right now, there is no one-size-fits-all label for driving under the influence of marijuana like there is for alcohol. A few states, Arizona, Delaware, Ohio,  Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Rhode Island, Utah, Wisconsin, and South Dakota, have created “per se” laws for driving and drug use. In these states, it is illegal to operate a vehicle with any detectable level of drugs in the system, even if has been days since the person smoked the weed.

A few other states define “drugged driving” as when the person is incapable of driving safely, which could vary widely between persons. The main problem with this law is that it can be difficult to define what “unsafe” driving could be.

The current response

45 states now have Drug Evaluation and Classification Programs that law enforcement officials take. These programs train police officers to determine when a person is under the unsafe influence of marijuana and other drugs. If a driver is stopped and the police officer suspects drug abuse, he or she can order a blood or urine test.

In Washington and Colorado, they have their own new way of detecting unsafe drugged driving levels. Washington has a blood-test limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Convictions are proven through police suspicion and a blood test. Ohio and Nevada have a legal limit of 2 nanograms. 12 other states have zero-tolerance limits.

The trouble with the current system

Although the drugged driving laws have a good start, they also have drawbacks. There is no current standard rate for THC (marijuana) impairment. You cannot determine drug impairment with a breath test or just by looking at someone. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it takes about three hours for marijuana levels to fall to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. This is the current “unsafe” standard set in Washington. Washington has stated that the level of 5 nanograms is about the same as the .08 limit for alcohol.


So what does this all mean for current drivers? Well, it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you are planning to use marijuana in Washington or Colorado, it is best to wait at least three hours after smoking to drive. It may also be prudent to have an auto accident attorney on hand in case you get into an accident or pulled over for signs of marijuana use. You never know when you might need a hand after an accident. The best way to stay safe, however, is to have someone else drive you for a full 24 hours after smoking- just to be sure.

This is an article by Nate Miller.