A recent study released about the effects of THC–the the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana–raises a host of issues with the way “impairment” is identified. As the number of states which have legalized marijuana for medical and/or recreational uses rises, and a number of New Yorkers travel to these states for the purpose of engaging in this activity, there are a few issues to be considered.

New York Law

The laws of New York with regard to marijuana are among the toughest of any state in the country.  New York law considers marihuana (as it is spelled in the statute) as a Schedule I hallucinogenic substance, along with LSD, heroin, and dozens of others. The state allows for the use of medical marijuana as of 2014, for a narrow range of ailments such as cancer, epilepsy, and HIV/AIDS. The possession and sale of marijuana is illegal in New York, but a movement to legalize it in Vermont is gaining momentum.

Findings in other states

The recent study about traffic safety focused on conditions observed in Washington State, where marijuana is legal for both medical and recreational use. While not an ideal parallel to New York, the Washington study reveals several issues that are relevant to every state which allows marijuana use on some level.

The time-honored method of establishing impaired ability to drive in alcohol cases is blood-alcohol content, or BAC. Any BAC reading at or above .08 is considered evidence of a driver’s impairment. But a similar threshold for driving under the influence of marijuana is difficult–if not impossible–to determine.

The first consideration is that a breathalyzer test for marijuana impairment does not exist. Drawing a blood sample from a driver in custody can take a couple of hours, and THC rapidly dissipates in the bloodstream. However, the rate of dissipation is not uniform, and traces of THC, which are measured in nanograms, can be detected hours after the effects of the drug have worn off.

A line with no basis

The level of THC which constitutes impaired driving, also known as per se limits, is 5 nanograms in Colorado and other states, which is an arbitrary number with no scientific basis behind it.  In fact, the recently released study made the statement that no such threshold could be accurately determined.

Traces of marijuana use, which are known as cannabinoids, can be observed in the bloodstream long after the effects of the drug have worn off. The rate of absorption into the body also seems to be related to prior usage levels, with frequent marijuana users showing more persistent levels of THC in their system than occasional users.

Another complicating factor is the routine combination of cannabinoids with alcohol. The study concluded that the number of drivers arrested for DUI with alcohol and cannabinoids in their system was eight times higher than those arrested for cannabinoids alone. The interactions between the two vary from person to person, and are nearly impossible to sort out with a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Help is available

As the legal status of marijuana continues to evolve, the level of cannabinoid impairment that disqualifies a user from legally operating a vehicle remains a murky issue.  Have a criminal charge in New York? Let our team offer a free consultation anytime: 1-866-792-7800.

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.