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Based on the most recent election results, looks like marijuana is quickly becoming more mainstream in the U.S. According to research done by SAMHSA in 2013, an estimated 19.8 million Americans reported that they had recently used the drug. Now voters have joined Washington and Colorado and approved its legal recreational use in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia.

In Oregon, voters passed Measure 91, which legalizes possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana for people 21 years of age and over. Adults can possess up to 8 ounces at home and 1 ounce in public. Alaska became the fourth state to legalize it’s recreational use by allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce in public and grow up to 6 plants for personal use at home. In Washington D.C., Initiative 71 legalizes adults to possess up to 2 ounces and have 6 plants for personal use at home. No sales of marijuana are currently allowed in the state. In California, voters approved Proposition 47, which reduces “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from felony to misdemeanor status. This will make about 10,000 people eligible for early release from state prisons.

While marijuana use has not been proven to be as harmful as other drugs like cocaine, heroin or crystal meth, it does carry some of the same risks as alcohol use. Young people who smoke marijuana are about twice as likely to drop out of school, have low motivation levels to succeed and increased chances of developing psychoses and cognitive impairment as they get older. Furthermore, there’s definitely an increased risk on the roads as people have difficulty staying within their lane, performing multiple tasks at once and maintaining concentration. Regular marijuana users also have an increased risk of heart irregularities, and experiencing hallucinations and delusions.

The bottom line is that like alcohol, THC in the system can impair an individual’s ability to safely drive a vehicle. The best decision is to stay off the road, as police are looking for marijuana impairment now more than ever. Since there’s no solid breath test yet, police ask for a blood test and/or submit the driver to a field sobriety test. Basically, they are looking to see if you can do two things at once. The blood test looks for a blood level of 5 nanograms of THC or higher.

Most states have instituted punishments for Marijuana DUI that are similar to that of a drunk driving DUI. These penalties include fines, jail time, community service, probation, an ignition interlock device, license suspension and marijuana education classes. And something to consider is that you don’t have to actually be driving the vehicle to get slammed with a DUI. An officer can arrest you if the vehicle is parked but you have the key in the ignition. One of our clients just received a Marijuana DUI for napping in his car with the ignition on to run the heat. Another client explained that she was sitting in the drivers seat with the key in the ignition while she and her friends were parked and listening to music. She was ultimately arrested because there was a baggie with over an ounce of marijuana found in the vehicle, although it wasn’t hers. So, if you are going to partake or be around other’s who are, reduce your risks by taking public transportation or designating a driver just like you would if you were out drinking.  

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