Driving while under the influence of marijuana in the Garden State is actually covered under the same statutes as the state’s alcohol-related DWI laws. While marijuana is the most common variety of “illegal” drug when it comes to a drug DUI charge, many motorists every year are accused of impaired operation of a motor vehicle because of cocaine, meth, heroin and other illicit substances, sometimes referred to as controlled dangerous substances or CDS.
As New Jersey drunk driving defense attorneys, a portion of our work is representing individuals who have been stopped by a police officer for what would normally be a routine traffic infraction, yet who end up being arrested and charged with either drug DUI or CDS possession in a motor vehicle. As we mentioned previously, although the law (specifically, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50) has been couched in terms of “driving while intoxicated” from alcohol, the statutes are written so as to include physical intoxication from any and all substance.
In addition to alcohol, the state’s DWI-DUI laws encompass impairment from all manner of CDS including narcotics, hallucinogens or any habit forming drugs. This is why, if a motorist is arrested for operating their vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, they are charged with a violation of the statues listed under 39:4-50. More importantly, however, unlike an alcohol-related DWI case (which usually entails evidence from a breathalyzer device such as the Alcotest machine), a marijuana-related DUI case usually involves scientific evidence in the form of a blood test or urine test.
With changes to DWI-DUI laws out West, specifically in Colorado where the law now defines “intoxication” for marijuana smokers, one can only wonder if states like New Jersey will soon follow suit. According to news reports, the new Colorado law sets a THC-blood limit for motorists in that state. While the legislation failed a total of six times in the past three years, the bill (HB1325) passed the state senate and was signed into law by the governor last May.
Under the new marijuana DUI law, a drivers caught with five 5 nanograms of the psychoactive ingredient THC in their bloodstream would be considered too stoned to drive; giving the police in that state the authority to issue a ticket similar to when a driver is considered too drunk to drive an automobile safely.
For those who opposed the law, the five nanogram standard was considered too low for frequent smokers of weed or cannabis, especially for those individual who frequently smoke marijuana for medical reasons. Although the law passed with the five nanogram limit in place, opponents at least were somewhat appeased by a provision which allows those charged with marijuana DUI to rebut the charges by proving that they did not exhibit poor driving behavior.
Another important point is that all of the previously failed marijuana DUI bills included “per se” wording, which essentially would have meant that if a motorist tested above the legal five-nanogram limit, he or she could be automatically convicted of the offense almost every time.
The argument with marijuana versus alcohol is whether or not a driver can be measurably impaired due to five nanograms of THC in their bloodstream versus 0.08 percent of alcohol. This continues to be one of the core questions that opponents of this new law have been asking since legislation began to be introduced. As for New Jersey, perhaps if and when our state passes a recreational marijuana law we will begin to see more specific marijuana DUI laws added to our existing DWI statues.
Marijuana DUI Bill Passes In Colorado Senate, Appears Poised To Become Law; KushMagazine.com; May 08 2013