Law enforcement is going insane because Coloradans refuse to put innocent people in jail for bogus charges.
Driving while impaired is some bullshit, and you're the King of Idiots if you do it. But regardless of how dangerous it is, we can all admit that "impairment" means different things to different people.
Especially when it comes to weed.
For most people, driving stoned isn't the same as driving drunk, or driving on heroin, or driving on your step-mom Terri's antidepressant cocktail. There is little evidence that marijuana impairs drivers equally across the board, meaning that it can be tricky to assess a person's actual level of intoxication when they're high.
Colorado jurors are smart enough to recognize this and to understand that with marijuana, there is no real objective measure of impairment. In fact, our state's general public is so informed about this, that Colorado jurors are acquitting people charged with stoned driving at unprecedented rates. Time after time, our peers are letting people facing marijuana DUIs go free, even when tests show they're over the state's legal blood-THC limit. Not surprisingly, prosecutors and law enforcement are muy pissed.
Since Colorado legalized weed, authorities have been pressured to apply rules and regulations to how people consume the newly legal substance. Law enforcement has dictated that anything above a level of 5 ng THC/ml blood constitutes "impairment," but this is an arbitrary number. There is no data that shows that 5 ng is the magic number to watch out for, and a multitude of tests have shown that not all people react the same to THC. While some people definitely do become impaired and drive like fools after hitting the dragon bong, others who smoke the exact same amount drive safely, or even better than they do sober.
For example, one study by the University of Iowa's National Advanced Driving Simulator found virtually no driving impairment under the influence of weed, while alcohol caused total impairment in every participant.
Add to that the fact that marijuana remains in the blood for several days after it's smoked, meaning that even if you smoked four days ago, THC may still be present in your bloodstream while you're completely sober.
So clearly, applying a random number to someone's blood-THC level is not an accurate analysis of their driving abilities, something that many Coloradans have caught on to.
One recent case in Colorado illustrated this perfectly.
Melanie Brinegar was stopped in June for an expired license plate. The cop who pulled her over decided to hit her with a marijuana DUI on the suspicion that she was high, even though she had not displayed any erratic driving.
Instead of pleading the 5th and remaining silent when the cop asked her if she'd been smoking, Brinegar—a licensed medical marijuana patient—answered “No, I was medicating.”
Upon hearing this, the cop demanded she perform a roadside sobriety test, which she failed. This enabled him to request a blood sample from her, which determined that she was four times over the legal limit for marijuana intoxication.
In court however, Brinegar said that she “drives better” and “is able to focus” after smoking. She went on to testify, “When I smoke I don’t get high.”
Incredibly, weed-savvy Colorado jurors believed her. In fact, they were on her side so much that some of them tried doing roadside sobriety maneuvers on their own while completely sober, and many of them failed.
Eventually, they ruled that while Brinegar was indeed "legally high," she was not impaired.
“The law allows you to infer that the person was impaired if they have over 5 ng/ml. But you may also feel free not to infer that and in any case use all the evidence to make your judgment," said Brad Wood, the jury's foreman.
Seems legit, doesn't it? To you or me, sure, but of course prosecutors don't see it that way; juries' recent defiance of the arbitrary 5 ng limit and their application of empathetic logic is driving them insane.
“You are putting lives in danger,” said Tom Raynes, head of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council. “I want the message to be understood. 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.”
Well, Tommy boy, there seems to be a clear difference between blood-THC levels and impairment, so … up yours? Coloradans just don't think that exceeding that limit for marijuana is the same as exceeding it for alcohol or other drugs. Deal with it.
Instead of considering this, prosecutors are pushing even harder to convince juries that the 5 ng limit is the word of God, and that roadside tests are the true measurement of sobriety. And while that's a lot easier for them to deal with than to accept the fact that intoxication is a completely subjective thing, it's pretty wrong. Treating people like sheep clones who all react the same to every substance isn't a fair, just or effective way to handle impaired driving and keep people safe. None of this is to say driving fucked up is okay, but neither is wrongly prosecuting someone who was driving safely because of a lack of information about how substances really affect individuals.
Hopefully, Colorado juries stay the course and continue to treat marijuana impairment as subjective, case-by-case occurrences like they did with Melanie Brinegar, because it's looking like they're the only thing maintaining the balance of justice for Colorado drivers.