Statistics show Colorado marijuana DUIs are increasing; the legal THC limit and police detection methods may put drivers at risk for wrongful charges.

Many people in Boulder appreciate the risks and potential legal consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol. Unfortunately, new data shows that many Coloradans may underestimate the risks of driving under the influence of drugs. Not surprisingly, since the legalization of marijuana, the number of associated DUID charges has increased significantly.

Increasing charges and penalties

Statistics on marijuana DUIs in Colorado are difficult to come by because the state only started tracking these arrests this year, according to KDVR. Still, in January alone, more than half of all DUI charges that the Colorado State Patrol issued were for driving under the influence of marijuana.

One of the state’s largest detox facilities, Arapahoe House, has seen the proportion of patients admitted for marijuana DUIs double from 2013 to 2014, according to USA Today. Last year, just 8 percent of admitted patients faced marijuana-related DUI charges; now, 16 percent of patients, or nearly 1 out of 6 patients, have been arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana.

The consequences of these charges can be significant. First-time offenders face a $600 fine, but the amount can increase to $1,500 for subsequent offenses.

Convicted offenders also face license suspension and mandatory substance abuse classes. Unfortunately, the present laws may also punish drivers who are not necessarily under the influence.

Issues with detecting drugged driving

The Colorado Department of Transportation reports that trained law enforcement officers play a key role in identifying drivers who have been using marijuana. These Drug Recognition Experts are supposed to recognize physical symptoms of impairment. Still, just like assessments of a driver’s drunkenness based on physical appearance or field sobriety test performance, these assessments are not foolproof.

If an officer believes a driver has been using marijuana based on physical or behavioral symptoms, the officer may order a blood test. Unfortunately, blood tests are not an uncontroversial form of evidence. Colorado law establishes a legal limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, and critics argue this limit may punish drivers even if they have not recently used the substance.

Active versus residual THC

The law, however, attempts to distinguish between the active elements of THC and residual THC in the bloodstream when it comes to the 5 nanogram limit. According to the Mayo Clinic, Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabino, often referred to as Delta 9, is the main psychoactive agent of the drug.

Tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid, or THC-COOH, is a metabolite that has a significant half-life and, as the Mayo Clinic notes, can be detected up to one week, or even longer, after a single use. The presence of THC-COOH in blood or urine is an indicator that a person has used marijuana, but does not necessarily indicate that the person is under the influence of or impaired by the drug. This form of THC can remain in a person’s system for weeks after the last incidence of marijuana use. Factors such as weight loss, stress and diet can also release the THC stored in fat cells, leading to even higher levels of THC in the blood.

Sadly, many people may face wrongful DUID charges because of these potential issues with the legal THC limit and the inherent limitations of identifying intoxication by physical symptoms. Anyone who has been arrested for driving under the influence should meet with an attorney as soon as possible to discuss ways of handling the charge.

Keywords: marijuana, DUID, DUI