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What Should You Know About Drug-Impaired Driving Enforcement In Colorado?

As one of the forerunners in marijuana decriminalization and legalization nationwide, Colorado has also taken measures to help prevent legal recreational and medical marijuana from being used by those who plan to drive in the near future. However, because the active ingredient in marijuana is fat-soluble and tends to accumulate in your system with repeated use, law enforcement professionals can often find it difficult to determine whether a driver suspected of operating under the influence ingested marijuana just a few minutes before getting behind the wheel or a few days (or even weeks) ago. What should you know about marijuana enforcement laws in Colorado if you have a prescription for medical marijuana or legally use marijuana for recreational purposes? Read on to learn more about when you can be arrested and some advances in impairment testing that may help improve enforcement in this area.

When can you be arrested for DUI after using medical or recreational marijuana?

Like many states, Colorado's criminal code restricts driving under the influence of not just alcohol, but marijuana, legally-prescribed opiates, and other restricted substances -- if the use of these substances impairs (or could impair) your ability to safely operate your vehicle. With substances like alcohol, it can be relatively simple to determine whether enough has been ingested to cause impairment, and state governments have seized upon the 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) as a measurable threshold of intoxication for purposes of criminal charges. 

However, marijuana can have dramatically different effects on each individual who consumes it, so there isn't an easily agreed-upon threshold used to determine marijuana intoxication. In addition, testing a driver for marijuana may yield a positive result even if he or she hasn't smoked or ingested any marijuana for some time. As a result, this means you may be able to be arrested and charged with operating under the influence if a police officer determines that, under the totality of the circumstances, you have used marijuana recently enough to be risking your safety (and the safety of others) by driving. 

This determination is usually made after accounting for several factors. First, the police officer will quickly size up your demeanor and physical affect. If you smell of marijuana, have glazed or glassy eyes, or are speaking slowly or unintelligibly, the police officer may ask you to step out of the vehicle so that you can be given a field sobriety test and your car or truck searched. 

If you're not presenting as an intoxicated or impaired person but there is marijuana paraphernalia inside the vehicle and visible to the police officer, you may also be asked to exit your vehicle and be subjected to a field sobriety test. If you're not able to pass the memory, agility, and other sensory processing tests administered by the law enforcement officer, you may be arrested and booked for driving under the influence. 

What technological advances are coming that could change the way these laws are enforced?

Although field sobriety tests can be used to weed out clearly impaired drivers, they aren't foolproof. The lack of an accurate chemical test to determine marijuana impairment can handicap both sides of a criminal case -- the prosecutor may run the risk that the case will be dismissed if the officer's administration or interpretation of the field sobriety test is successfully attacked by the defense, while the defendant risks being charged for drugged driving even if he or she hadn't used marijuana that day and was simply experiencing physical or emotional distress that manifested during the field sobriety test. 

Fortunately, one advancement in this field seems to be making some progress. Scientists have been able to recently develop a marijuana-detecting test strip that can measure the THC content in saliva (and therefore, pinpoint whether use took place recently). This may be able to replace or supplement many of the interdiction measures currently being used by law enforcement, and it can make enforcement efforts more fair and reduce legal costs for those mistakenly charged with a crime under the drugged driving statute.

If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated, contact a defense attorney from a firm like Russ Jones Attorney At Law.