With Washington's new law legalizing marijuana for those ages 21 and older, the state is relying on trained drug recognition experts to help enforce the law among motorists. These experts identify drugged drivers by field sobriety testing and other techniques.
Just like when police conduct a traffic stop when a driver is suspected of drunk driving, drug recognition experts will operate in the same manner. They will ask drivers to perform a one leg stand. They will assess the driver's balance by asking that the driver walk in a straight line. The experts may also ask drivers to track a finger with their eyes.
But that's not all. They will also check the driver's pulse and blood pressure. They will check the person's eyes under bright lights to see if the pupils are dilated, which is a sign of marijuana use. Officers will also check the person's taste buds and observe speech patterns. Marijuana odor is considered a sure sign of use and it gives officers probable cause to search the vehicle.
It can be tricky to determine impairment by drugs through urine or blood samples because marijuana can stay in the body for more than one month after use. In addition, lab results can take weeks to confirm impairment. As such, field sobriety tests will be commonly used as additional evidence in suspected marijuana DUI cases. Washington drivers should know that refusal of a field sobriety test in a suspected marijuana DUI has consequences, just like refusing a Breathalyzer test. Most likely, a driver who refuses field sobriety testing could face a license suspension.
Drivers can receive a DUI charge if their blood contains more than five nanograms of marijuana per milliliter, which is the legal limit. The law is still fairly new, so just how many drivers will be caught driving while impaired is yet to be seen.
Source: Kitsap Sun, "Law enforcement's drug experts help enforce new pot law," Josh Farley, Dec. 11, 2012