Legalized marijuana: Concerns over road safety, DUI level for pot users

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groupOLYMPIA — The legalization of marijuana in Washington state takes effect Dec 6. But there are concerns about what it will mean for road safety and how police will enforce DUI laws when it comes to stoned drivers.

Under the new law, adults 21 and older will be able to legally possess an ounce of pot starting Dec. 6.

But then what?

That’s the question many in the Impaired Driving Working Group were asking during a meeting in Olympia Thursday night. The group includes members of the Washington State Patrol, prosecutors, judges and lawmakers.

Many say it is going to take a while to figure out the standard protocol of when to arrest a driver under the influence of pot and how to make that determination.

Under Initiative 502, which voters approved Nov. 6, drivers will be allowed to legally drive with up to 5 nanograms of THC, the active ingredient of marijuana, per milligram of blood. Based on some studies, that level is approximately equivalent to the state’s 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level.

It is unclear how much marijuana one could smoke before reaching the 5 nanogram level, however.

Jackalyn Veltkamp said medical marijuana is her solution to a barrage of health problems, including multiple sclerosis and insomnia.

“I use it every night and it (THC) keeps stacking up and stacking up” in the body, said Veltkamp.

If Veltkamp were to be tested on any given day, she said, her THC level would be in the thousands of nanograms.

“One or two puffs, anybody would be over 5 nanograms,” Veltkamp said.

One nanogram equals one-billionth of a gram.

California’s pro-marijuana NORML organization said, “In the case of smoked marijuana, THC peaks rapidly in the first few minutes after inhaling, often to levels above 100 ng/ml in blood plasma. It then declines quickly to single-digit levels within an hour. THC can remain at low but detectable levels of 1-2 ng/ml for 8 hours or more without any measurable signs of impairment in one-time users.

“In chronic users,” it said, “detectable amounts of blood THC can persist for days. In one study of chronic users, residual THC was detected for 24 to 48 hours or longer at levels of 0.5 – 3.2 ng/ml in whole blood.”

Washington state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, who has led the way for stronger laws on drunken driving, said he has heard about the concerns “as to how reliable this 5 nanogram is. There is not much science behind it so I’m expecting challenges in the future.

“But in the meanwhile,” he said, “it is the law; we will just have to comply with it. We just need a lot more information about how it is going to be implemented.”

Goodman is expecting challenges to the 5 nanogram rule by  defense attorneys who say the threshold is too low.

“There is not a lot of research on this, so it will be an interesting ride, so to speak,” said Goodman.

Washington State Patrol Lt. Rob Sharpe said it’s too early to tell if there will be more impaired drivers. “It is possible, but we don’t know what to expect,” he said.

Sharpe said his officers are adequately trained to pick out the signs of impairment, whether it is drugs or alcohol.

But Veltkamp is convinced medical marijuana users will get caught in the web of uncertainty.

“I know a friend who stopped smoking for a week and a half, got tested, he was 125 nanograms,” said Veltkamp.

She noted that pot affects people differently, adding that it’s hard to gauge when someone is too stoned to drive.

Goodman said he is planning to possibly draft  legislation that could give added protection to medical marijuana users.  He will also hold future hearings to gather more information for the public and legislators.

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  • Mike Parent

    Marijuana has been legalized, not introduced. There won't be a glut of Intox driving. How do they test for all other substances, NOT alcohol, presently? A recorded field sobriety test would supply evidence so that any court could see what the Officer did.

  • kevin

    Lets just have the pothead losers stock up on chips, chocolate bars and video games ,,, thats usually the only reason they drive anyway

    oh i forgot, to get cigarettes and more dope

    • Guest

      This is a really ignorant statement from someone who clearly does not understand the medical uses of marijuana, or the fact that not everyone who uses is a 'pothead loser'. Nor do they all get munchies or need cigarettes. Seriously. You just sound like an a$$hole.

    • Mr Holmes

      You know what makes me sad> YOU DO! Maybe we should chug on over to mamzy pamzy land where maybe we can find you some facts you Jack Wagon! Millions of successfull people smoke weed and yes we like to chill no going out and robbing folks or murdering people we are just to relaxed for violence but dont get it twisted it doesnt impare you so still able to dish out a butt whoopin if necessary but would rather not cause we got high la da da tta da ta da da da I was gonna finish this comment but i got high yea yea forgot more stuff to write but i got high. now my message is done and I know why yea yea Cause i got high cause i got high cause i got high la da da ta da ta da da da

  • Don

    Medical patients are getting too up in arms over this whole issue. Cops can still only give you a DUI test if there is probable cause. They aren't just going to be whipping out blood tests on you for no reason. If you get into an accident or ARE too stoned to drive then that's another story… You can't safely get doped up on oxycotin or other painkillers and go driving around either.

    Has everyone lost their rational mind??? I have smoked weed for over 10 years and my closest friends and family don't even realize it. Because I do it to get over social anxiety. I've never had an issue driving or even having people think I'm stoned. It is much easier to be a functional pot smoker than it is anything else. And if you can't be functional then you deserve to suffer the consequences.

    • mg

      Yes pot is a very controlable substance with those who use them.for the right purposes I don’t have a medical card yet it still hellps me with sleeping back pain anxiety an more but those who use it for just getting high for having problems guess what people life in general has problems but pot dose not take them away use it wisely or it will come back to bite you in the rear end

  • theresa

    0 death in washinton state, for weed,bud,green,mmj. if you use it how its suppose to be used and dont over due it, every one i have seen on weed, has either a smile on their face or they are smileing. or eating good food, and it dont kill a person, like pain pills do,i have seen alot of death around the world, by people takeing to many pain pills, and its allways on the news about over doses, but you dont hear that about marajuana, comment by lc from shelton wa. my own opion.thanks every one.

  • Carpet Muncher

    How come the cops didn't test people driving while under the influence of pot before it was legal? I have never heard of anyone getting busted with a DUI for smoking pot then driving. How stupid. This
    is just another way for the goverment to make money.

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