The evidence on the scientific side is a bit unclear but, I assure you, should you be driving and encounter a law enforcement officer after having partaken of the bounty of Colorado’s beautiful weed gardens, the ensuing process will almost certainly not resemble the lighthearted shenanigans from the movie “Super Troopers.”
Though it falls under the same statute as the criminal charge for driving under the influence of alcohol, there are a few factors that make cannabis-related traffic issues a little less cut-and-dried than alcohol-related ones. These differences are related to the different ways in which the human body processes each of these chemicals.
The general rule for drinking alcohol and avoiding intoxication that could potentially interfere with the ability to safely operate a vehicle is the “one drink per hour” standard. Most adults of reasonable size (let’s call it 99 pounds and above) should be able to metabolize alcohol in the amount of one drink per hour – be it a beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of liquor – without breaching the standard blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent. If this pattern is followed, a driver can be reasonably assured that their BAC will not reach a concentration that might land them in trouble with the law and should reach a BAC of very near 0.00 percent with an extra hour of waiting before driving. Pretty simple.
Cannabis, on the other hand, is stored for much longer periods of time in your body’s system of cannabanoid receptors, which govern a wide variety of health and wellness systems. This is a substantial positive for individuals who use it under medical supervision, but a potentially negative factor should you come into contact with the police and be asked to take a blood test to determine the levels of THC in your bloodstream. (Yes, a blood test is necessary; there is no other way to determine the concentration of THC in your system.)
The legal limit for THC is five nanograms per milliliter of blood, or 5 ng/mL. This concentration level, ostensibly comparable to the 0.08 limit set for alcohol, may actually be at or near the baseline level for a medical patient or a long-term user of cannabis. Instead of establishing a standard that compares apples to apples, this 5 ng/mL level could potentially what causes legal problems for a driver who hasn’t used cannabis for up to seven days prior to an interaction with the police.
There have even been studies indicating that cannabis at low levels may promote more cautious driving, but I would advise not to test that without appropriate scientific supervision on private property. A DUI arrest is a huge headache. There is the possibility of incarceration and high fines in addition to the potential unforeseen ensuing problems that might impact your personal and professional life. The state legislature has recognized the science behind THC metabolism and made a provision to the laws concerning intoxicated driving to give arrestees the ability to argue against impairment when their court date comes but this can be of little comfort to an individual going through the difficulties of the DUI process.
As we lead the vanguard of cannabis legalization nationwide, I offer just a few words of what I believe to be the soundest of advice regarding driving and marijuana: Be overly cautious. Cannabis arrests have traditionally been compared to “low hanging fruit” for law enforcement officers – the pungent smell of burning marijuana (and even dry unsmoked) is like a homing beacon for the police. Smoking in public is illegal and can easily draw unwanted attention. Smoking while in a moving vehicle, even for passengers, is also illegal. And, for the love of every cannabis user intelligent enough to rub two brain cells together, do not, I repeat, DO NOT consume edibles and drive. This combination is the one that is most comparable to the physical and mental impairment caused by overconsumption of alcohol and is really just looking for trouble.
As summer approaches, go out and have fun, DGO; smoke some beautiful buds with your friends. But before you do, figure out a safe travel plan. Don’t look back at this article someday and say, “Damn, I should’ve followed that advice!” It’s just not worth it. I promise.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected]