Washington is one of two states that permit recreational use, sale and purchase of marijuana. Colorado and Washington both legalized marijuana in 2012, and each state has faced unique challenges to safely implement the law. Though Colorado has been permitting marijuana sales and purchase since January 1, 2014, Washington did not start licensing marijuana retailers for pot sales until July 2014. Experts within the state believe Washington pot shops will quickly run out of product, with many unable to deliver to the thousands of customers waiting in long lines on opening day. Marijuana sales are expected to offer a boon to Washington’s economy, though an uptick in sales may be slow due to licensing red tape.

Police Preparing for “High” Drivers

As state residents gear up for legal high times, law enforcement across Washington State are preparing for a likely increase of DUIs due to marijuana. Officers claim that marijuana-related DUIs increased after voters approved home growing and use in 2012. Now users are no longer restricted to backyard pot, and can also legally buy from local weed shops. Police fear that an increase of use due to the now-legal sales will lead to more Washington drivers getting behind the wheel while impaired by marijuana. Officials also fear that drivers will confuse the law legalizing pot with laws banning driving under the influence of the drug.

DUI in Washington

In Washington, a driver may be charged with DUI if “he or she is found to be driving a vehicle under the influence [of]…any drug…[and] starting August 1, 2012, the definition of a drug also includes any chemical inhaled or ingested for its intoxicating or hallucinatory effects.” If convicted in court, the driver may face harsh penalties including fines up to $5,000, driver’s license suspension, and possibly jail time. While the state’s DUI laws clearly indicate that drivers impaired by the use of marijuana could face charges, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission is determined that drivers get the message.

As of July 1, 2014, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission has launched a campaign warning drivers against operating a motor vehicle while high. The campaign features multiple humorous commercials that were created by the Colorado Department of Transportation in 2014 to promote a similar message. These commercials warn drivers about the charges they could face if driving under the influence. In addition to these TV spots, the Commission is working with local law enforcement to increase patrols specifically monitoring drug-impaired drivers. Training law enforcement to spot high drivers was also a strategy borrowed from Colorado’s campaign to discourage drug use while driving.

Courtney Popp, the Washington State Traffic Resource prosecutor, has been working closely with police to ensure officers are properly trained to spot a driver’s drug impairment. Popp believes that as more shops receive licenses to sell weed, the state will see a rise in marijuana-related DUIs. Right now, residents and law enforcement alike are navigating fairly uncharted waters when it comes to legal marijuana use. As legalized use continues to increase, impaired drivers will quickly learn that, even though recreational use is legal, driving under the influence can still lead to criminal charges.

DISCLAIMER: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem.  Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: 1-866-792-7800.  Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.  Attorney Advertising.