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Colorado Juries Acquitting Pot-Smoking Drivers

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Arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana.

Driving stoned on marijuana; image courtesy National Institute on Drug Abuse

Colorado prosecutors are becoming more and more frustrated that juries are acquitting marijuana users in cases of driving under the influence, even when tests show they are over the legal THC limit.

An article by Mark Ackerman and Brian Maass for CBS Denver quotes Tom Raynes, a former prosecutor who is the executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, who said those juries are putting lives in danger:

It’s about driving while under the influence of drugs — it’s not about recreational or medical, it’s about being impaired when you drive.

Although lawyers say it’s a given that if a driver is over the legal limit for alcohol, he or she will be found guilty, juries are not viewing marijuana driving in the same way. CBS Denver noted that the legal limit of 5 ng/ml of THC is only one of the factors juries are weighing.

DUIM Arrest

Melanie Brinegar was acquitted of a charge of driving under the influence of marijuana (DUIM), even though she had agreed that she had smoked pot on the morning of her arrest, just before driving. Police charged her with DUIM in June, after stopping her for driving with an expired plate.

A blood test showed Brinegar, a medical marijuana patient, was almost four times over the limit, and officers said she performed poorly on roadside tests. But, even with all that, a jury acquitted Brinegar, who claims she “drives better” and is “able to focus” after smoking marijuana.

CBS Denver writes that Brad Wood, foreman of the jury in the Brinegar case, believes the marijuana driving law was poorly written. Referring to the THC limit, Wood said:

If the law says we strongly encourage you to weigh this as the biggest factor, I think it would have been a whole different story.

Former prosecutor Raynes said, “I don’t believe anyone can drive better under the influence of any substance.”

THC Limit Tested

To help inform the public of the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana, prosecutors have teamed up with defense lawyers to conduct so-called Green Lab exercises. Modeled after the Wet Lab program that helps police identify drunk drivers, Green Lab tests people after they have ingested pot, measuring their performance on roadside sobriety tests.

Another CBS Denver article, “Attorneys Get Volunteers High to Demonstrate Point of Impairment,” says that at one Green Lab demonstration, volunteers were given different amounts of marijuana edibles and asked to take a roadside sobriety test. Each volunteer (all of whom said they were regular marijuana users) said before the test that they did not think marijuana would impair their driving ability, and some even said it improves their driving.

However, each volunteer failed his or her initial roadside sobriety test after ingesting the marijuana. “But just an hour later, some of the volunteers were able to pass the test and were deemed capable of driving safely,” CBS Denver wrote.

The article does not specify how much time transpired between the volunteers’ ingestion of marijuana edibles and the initial roadside sobriety test, other than saying it was later. Nor are there any details about the amount of marijuana in the edibles, or how the amounts correlated with volunteers who were able to pass the second roadside sobriety test.


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