New Study Finds Tests Used by States to Determine if a Driver is Impaired by Marijuana Use Have No Scientific Basis

Man driving and smoking joint

Around the country, many states are passing laws legalizing, or decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal and non-medicinal purposes. In New Jersey, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, but the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act made the cultivation, sale, possession, and use of marijuana legal for specific purposes, under strict medical guidelines. Under New Jersey law, you can be charged with DUI / DWI for being under the influence of a marijuana while operating a motor vehicle. However, the statute does not specify a specific amount of the drug that must be present in someone’s body at the time they were driving, with the well-known exception of alcohol – a person with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent is presumed to be legally impaired, which is known as a “per se standard.”

In recent months, some states have designated a per se standard for THC, the active component of marijuana. For example, Pennsylvania now has a per se standard of one nanogram of THC per milliliter of blood. To date, six states employ tests to determine if someone is driving impaired by marijuana use. Those include Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. New Jersey law currently does not yet provide for a specific threshold for THC. Importantly, however, a recent study by the nation’s largest automobile club found that the tests employed have no true scientific basis.

The study commissioned by American Automobile Association (AAA)’s safety foundation said it is not possible to set a blood-test threshold for THC, which is the chemical in marijuana that makes people high, that can reliably determine impairment. Yet the laws in five of the six states automatically presume a driver guilty if that person tests higher than the limit and not guilty if it’s lower. As a result, the foundation said that drivers who are unsafe may be going free while others may be wrongly convicted. As a result of the study, the foundation is advocating that the per se standard laws be replaced by ones that rely on trained police officers to determine if a driver is impaired, backed up by a test for the presence of THC, rather than a specific threshold. Officers are trained to screen for indications of impairment due to drug use, such as pupil dilation, tongue color, slurred speech, and body behavior.

Determining whether someone is impaired by marijuana, as opposed to having simply used the drug at some point, is more complex than the reliable blood alcohol tests that have been developed for alcohol impairment. There is currently no science indicating that drivers become impaired when a specific amount of THC is noted in their blood. Rather, much depends upon the individual. Drivers with relatively high levels of THC in their systems may not be impaired, especially if they are regular users, while others with relatively low levels may be unsafe behind the wheel.

In New Jersey, the ambiguous nature of the law means that it is important to obtain an experienced DUI attorney in any situation where you or someone you know is charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment in the same manner [as] we do alcohol,” but the reality is that the laws regarding marijuana remain flawed and an experienced DUI attorney will be best suited to present the best defense possible or have the charges against you dropped completely.

New Jersey DUI Attorney Edward M. Janzekovich Can Help Drivers Charged with Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

A DUI or DWI charge for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana is a new and complex of area of the law. Such a charge can have severe penalties and it is important to understand those penalties and how to best defend against them. If you are charged with drunk driving or driving under the influence of any substance in New Jersey, knowing what your rights are can make all the difference. To speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI lawyer about your situation, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today.

We serve clients in Ocean County, Monmouth County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Union County and Somerset County.