Determining whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana is challenging. The standardized field sobriety tests used to predict alcohol levels are ineffective for marijuana intoxication. Levels of THC and its metabolites in blood and urine are not closely correlated with marijuana intoxication. So, how can law enforcement determine when THC is impairing a person’s ability to drive? Researchers are working on brain imaging technology which may offer a more reliable method for identifying impairment from marijuana intoxication.
A few days before the Kansas City Chiefs were to play in the Super Bowl, assistant coach Britt Reid (son of head coach Andy Reid) was involved in a three-car accident which left a five-year-old in critical condition. Earlier this month, Britt Reid was charged with the felony offense of ‘DWI-Serious Physical Injury’. While this incident occurred in Missouri, the investigation which led to the charge is essentially the same as a Vehicular Assault investigation in Ohio.
Many people charged with DUI (called ‘OVI’ in Ohio), especially those charged with a first offense, feel like they are in the dark. They do not understand the elements and consequences of OVI, and they do not know what to expect in the court process. They also are uncertain about whether to hire a lawyer and how to find a good defense attorney. I recently published a new book, the Ohio DUI/OVI Guide, which answers most of the questions people ask in this situation. My hope is that those who read the guide will no longer be in the dark.
When people think of a DUI charge (called ‘OVI’ in Ohio), most think of drunk driving. This is where the bulk of the money and effort have been concentrated to raise awareness: think of the “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” or “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” advertising campaigns. However, with more states legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, more people are finding themselves charged with OVI stemming from alleged marijuana impairment. This is a trend we have been following for some time. For people charged with a Marijuana OVI, a frequent question is: How long is THC detectable in your system?
We’ve used this space in the past to discuss how the nationwide trend in marijuana legalization has impacted the enforcement of DUI laws (called ‘OVI in Ohio’). After last week’s election, 37 states plus Washington D.C. have now legalized marijuana in some fashion. While recreational use of marijuana has been decriminalized (but not legalized) in Ohio, medical marijuana has been legal here since 2016. What does this mean for marijuana DUI charges? Could changes to Ohio’s OVI laws be on the horizon?
Most states now have some form of legalized marijuana. Thirty-four states (as well as D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico) have medical marijuana programs, and ten states permit recreational marijuana use. The states with recreational marijuana have questioned whether marijuana legalization results in more traffic accidents. According to a recent article in the USA Today, the answer seems to be ‘no’. Nevertheless, Ohio aggressively enforces a flawed marijuana DUI law (called ‘OVI’ in Ohio).
There is a difference between what generally ‘makes sense’ and what is sufficient evidence in court. In a recent Ohio DUI/OVI case, the prosecution’s failure to prove all the elements of an offense resulted in one conviction being reversed and probably should have resulted in a second conviction being reversed as well. This case from an Ohio court of appeals also illustrates important lessons for litigating DUI/OVI cases involving drugs.
As of January 1, 2020, 11 states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana use. That number increases to 33 states when you include medical legalization. Several studies have been conducted to determine what effect this ever-growing legal access to marijuana has had on traffic and DUI/OVI statistics. While more data will be needed to ultimately determine the true effect of legalization, these studies indicate there has been an impact.
The ever-growing number of states which have legalized either medical marijuana or recreational marijuana has created a number of issues for law enforcement and the justice system. Chief among those issues is the challenge of enforcing laws against operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana. In an effort to overcome this challenge, the Norwegian company Drauger developed the DrugTest 5000. This system uses a mouth swab, taken roadside, to help determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana or other drugs. The DrugTest 5000 has been in use in Norway since 2015 and has seen growing use in the United States. This test, however, is probably not the solution for law enforcement’s problems.
Ohio and Pennsylvania are two states which still prosecute drivers for DUI / OVI marijuana, even if the marijuana metabolites in the driver’s system are not affecting the person’s ability to drive. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office recently announced it will not prosecute cannabis DUIs unless the driver has amounts of psychoactive THC which affect driving. Ohio prosecutors should consider implementing this policy.