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Will Colorado's experience affect how Florida treats DUI-drugs?

Around 25 states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use or decriminalized its use in small amounts, according to the marijuana legalization group NORML. Florida is not among them, but we still have to find a way to deal rationally with its consequences, including what to do when people drive under its influence.

Driving under the influence of a considerable amount of THC, the active chemical in cannabis, isn’t safe. THC can affect users’ peripheral vision, balance, decision-making capacity, sense of time -- even the ability to keep a vehicle centered in a traffic lane.

The trouble is, we don’t know just much THC is safe for drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there is insufficient evidence to tie any specific level of THC in the blood to any particular degree of impairment. Routine medical marijuana users report having a small amount THC in their bloodstreams all the time -- but they don’t feel or act impaired.

Marijuana users’ bodies develop resistance to the drug’s effects, meaning that someone who routinely uses marijuana for medical purposes can tolerate -- and probably drive safely with -- a level of THC in their blood much lower than that of a novice user.

Yet when Colorado and Washington State legalized marijuana, both states decided to adopt a fixed limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood for the purposes of impaired driving law. More than that amount of THC in your blood and either state presumes you’re high. That limit is controversial, however, because it’s less than average medicinal smokers have in their bloodstreams every day.

In some states where marijuana remains illegal, the blood-THC limit for driving has been set at zero. In others, including Florida, you can be charged with DUI involving a controlled substance if your “normal faculties are impaired.” In other words, if you’re pulled over for a traffic violation and the officer suspects you’re high on drugs, you could be arrested and required to submit to a drug test. Any amount of a controlled substance in your blood would be evidence of impairment, but the legal question is whether you were actually impaired.

The legal sale of recreational marijuana in Colorado began on New Year’s Day. Will the fact that Colorado set a controversial limit, with little scientific basis, on blood-THC levels for drivers ultimately influence Florida’s DUI law?

Source: Business Insider, “Why It's Crazy To Try To Set DUI Limits For Marijuana,” Erin Fuchs, Dec. 19, 2013

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