Marijuana laws in the United States are changing. With full-blown legalization in Colorado and Washington and medical systems in place in many other states, it is clear that the American people’s views on marijuana are changing. Many Portland criminal defense attorneys who have defended clients in marijuana possession and distribution cases are now shifting their focus to business licensing and regulatory compliance with an eye towards assisting individuals set up and run legal marijuana businesses (if and when the drug is legalized for recreational use in Oregon).
As a Portland and Lake Oswego drug attorney, I have defended many people accused of marijuana-related crimes. Currently, Oregon uses an ‘actual impairment’ standard for cases where people are accused of driving under the influence of marijuana or other narcotics. The driver can be found guilty of a DUII if he or she was driving in an impaired manner, i.e., not as well as they would have been driving if they were sober. Portland and Lake Oswego DUII lawyers are used to this standard, but if marijuana is legalized in Oregon then the state may adopt a different standard. Under Washington State’s new legalized marijuana law, a driver can be found guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana if his or her blood tests positive for THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) in an amount equal to or higher than 5 nanograms per milileter . The effectiveness of having such a legal limit has been hotly debated because a regular or heavy user of marijuana may test positive even when he or she is not under the influence at the time of driving, or a light user who is impaired significantly by a small amount of marijuana might be below this threshold. A recent NPR story discussed the new marijuana DUII law in Washington. NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) discusses marijuana laws on a state-by-state basis here.
Another issue with Washington’s new law is that it requires blood draws to prove that drivers have an illegal amount of THC in their system. There has yet to be an effective, mass produced breathalyzer for marijuana like there is for alcohol. Drawing a driver’s blood implicates more privacy issues than giving a breathalyzer test, and, after a recent Supreme Court case, State v. McNeely, it will usually require a police officer to apply for a warrant before drawing the blood. This in turn means more work for Portland police and more opportunities for Portland and Lake Oswego criminal defense attorneys to make procedural objections to DUII cases if the warrant has not been acquired or has been acquired improperly. It will be interesting to see how driving under the influence of marijuana cases are processed moving forward, and, very important for Portland and Lake Oswego DUII attorneys to keep up on new developments in this area of law.