In Colorado, like many states with legal marijuana, driving with a small trace of marijuana (5 nanograms) in one’s bloodstream results in a DUI. This results a legal conundrum: does marijuana in one’s system necessarily mean impairment?
If a recent Colorado ruling in favor of a “stoned driver” is any indication, that answer is a definitive no. Ralph Banks, a 27-year-old Ralph Banks of Lakewood, Colorado, had his cannabis DUI acquitted by a Jefferson County Court jury after a less than 30-minute discussion in the jury room.
Banks’ case dates back to last March (2015), when a missing headlight got him pulled over by the Lakewood police; he was given a roadside test, deemed “under the influence of cannabis”, then cuffed and handed a DUI. A blood test also revealed that Banks had 7.9 nanograms per milliliter of THC in his System, which is 2.9 milliliters over the legal limit.
However, last week’s jury threw the case out and called Banks innocent after a brief huddle, clearly deciding he wasn’t impaired. As one would expect, Banks deemed the whole ordeal a disaster.
“It was a nightmare. It was the worst experience of my life.”
But one man’s temporary nightmare could mean future bliss for medicated or high drivers all throughout Colorado. Banks’ attorney, well-known cannabis litigator Rob Corry seems to think this decision indicates as long as the driver isn’t impaired, he or she will be in the clear.
“Now with this case, it’s perfectly legal to get behind the wheel after consuming marijuana as long as you’re not impaired. And that’s the key. You can do it if you’re not impaired. If you’re impaired, do not get behind the wheel of a vehicle.”
Given this result, Corry’s logic seems at least somewhat believable. However, there are many mitigating factors in any case that can determine one’s guilt, and they all stem from proof of impairment.
Banks’ case was pretty cut and dry, because a missing headlight isn’t like swerving in and out of lanes or stopping at a green light. Perhaps Banks’ headlight was caused by stoner indifference, but it’s more likely it was just an honest mistake warranting a citation, not a roadside drug test.
Still, there is plenty of evidence in favor of the hypothesis that medicated–but not impaired–drivers will continue to win these cases as they arise. Last year, a woman in Colorado also had her DUI acquitted in a very similar scenario; in 2013 a Michigan man set the first precedent for these types of cases when a court also dropped his marijuana DUI charge.
Moreover, numerous studies–even one by the government–have shown empirical evidence that drivers high on cannabis are 60 times safer than those on alcohol. In fact, the government study even claims that drivers on marijuana
“were no more likely to crash than who had not used any drugs or alcohol prior to driving.”
That may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s clearly safe to say that driving on marijuana clearly does not pose the threat driving on alcohol, pain killers, or harder drugs presents. While it’s still not a good idea to get behind a wheel right after consuming cannabis in most circumstances, these recent rulings and science show that you’re not really putting anyone at risk, nor are you committing a crime.
For some medical marijuana patients, like those with Parkinson’s, it’s not difficult to see how cannabis could in fact improve one’s driving. Cannabis (CBD in particular) has the ability to cease shaking and steady hands down.
Would you rather have that driver on his medicine or “stone” sober.