By: South Sound Law Group

The Intersection of DUI Laws and Marijuana Usage in Washington: Legal Guidance for Drivers

Criminal Defense

How Do Washington State’s Current DUI Laws Address Marijuana Usage?

Washington State’s DUI regulations reflect the state’s efforts to balance the legalized use of marijuana with public safety concerns. Despite the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012 for individuals over the age of 21, driving under the influence of marijuana remains a crime. The state has implemented specific measures to address and penalize such behavior.

However, the state’s testing methods and definitions of what constitutes marijuana-related impairment are still the subject of significant debate, making marijuana DUIs a complex legal topic. If you or a loved one have been charged with driving under the influence of marijuana, it’s vital to consult with an experienced Washington DUI defense attorney who can evaluate your case and determine your legal options.

What is the Legal Threshold for a Marijuana DUI in Washington State?

Washington State has established a “per se” legal limit for THC concentration in the bloodstream while driving. Following a traffic stop and arrest, police must obtain a warrant to perform a blood test, which is used to confirm the presence and amount of THC in the driver’s bloodstream. The legal limit within two hours after driving is set at five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. There are even stricter requirements for drivers under 21 who cannot have any trace of marijuana in their blood while driving.

Drivers found with THC levels at or above this threshold are presumed to be in an impaired state and can be charged with DUI without the need for evidence of actual difficulties driving or functioning. Police can also arrest drivers who appear too intoxicated to drive, regardless of their THC blood level. Officers often employ field sobriety tests and other observational tactics to determine the level of driver impairment before arrest and blood testing.

Can You Be Charged With a DUI if You Possess a Medical Prescription for Marijuana?

The laws regarding marijuana DUIs in Washington apply equally to both recreational and medical marijuana users. The per se legal limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, above which a driver is presumed to be impaired, is in effect under all circumstances. As outlined by state statute RCW 46.61.502, which addresses driving under the influence: “The fact that a person charged with a violation of this section is or has been entitled to use a drug under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense against a charge of violating this section.”

What Are the Potential Consequences of a Marijuana DUI?

Individuals convicted of a marijuana DUI in Washington State face the same penalties as someone convicted of an alcohol DUI. Legal ramifications for a gross misdemeanor DUI may include:

  • A mandatory minimum sentence of 24 hours in jail, up to a maximum of 364 days in jail.
  • At least one year of having an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle(s).
  • A minimum driver’s license suspension of 90 days.
  • Fines of up to $5,000.
  • Probation or monitoring for a maximum of five years.

Some first-time DUI offenders may be eligible for alternative sentencing options or deferred prosecution at the court’s discretion. Alternative sentencing could involve enrollment in an approved sobriety program, court-ordered house arrest, or other requirements for the defendant. Avoiding a lengthy jail sentence or keeping a DUI conviction that cannot be expunged off your record can be critical to your future. Your defense attorney can determine if you are potentially eligible for any of these alternatives to traditional DUI sentencing and fight for the best possible outcome for your case.

Can a Marijuana DUI Result in Felony Charges?

A DUI can be increased to a felony charge under certain circumstances. Situations that could lead to more severe DUI charges include:

  • Having three or more prior DUI or other qualifying offenses in the past ten years.
  • Having a prior conviction for vehicular homicide or vehicular assault while intoxicated.

If a child age 16 or under is in the vehicle during a Washington State marijuana DUI, the driver could also face child endangerment charges and be subject to aggravated DUI charges. This situation could result in increased jail time, more significant fines, an extended period of required ignition interlock devices on your vehicles, and a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigation.

Why Are the State’s Marijuana DUI Laws and Testing Methods Controversial?

Considering the fact that a marijuana DUI conviction can have such a substantial impact on a defendant’s life, it would appear vital for law enforcement to have a scientifically backed basis for their marijuana intoxication threshold and testing methodologies. However, the state’s approach has been criticized as the chosen THC limit has been cited as arbitrary and not necessarily correlating with a person’s level of impairment. Additionally, THC metabolizes differently than alcohol and may be stored in the body for days or weeks due to its fat-soluble nature, making blood tests unreliable indicators of current intoxication.

Due to these factors, individuals may experience false positives on a blood test following a DUI arrest. Chronic marijuana users are particularly in jeopardy of testing over the legal limit for THC, even if they did not ingest marijuana prior to driving and were not under the influence at the time of the arrest. It can be essential for defendants to contact a DUI defense lawyer who can help navigate the complexities of the law, challenge the results of potentially inaccurate tests, and protect their rights.

How Can a Skilled DUI Defense Lawyer Help You?

It has been shown that the effects of marijuana on driving ability can vary greatly between individuals. Unfortunately, even if you were not showing signs of impairment at the time of the arrest, you could find yourself facing a life-altering marijuana-related DUI charge if your blood THC concentrations are over the legal limit. In these circumstances, it is critical to work closely with an experienced DUI attorney who can build a robust defense strategy based on the specific details of your case. Contact South Sound Law Group online or by calling 253-465-2722 today to schedule a free consultation.