Spotting and assessing drugged driving is a growing point of contention in the United States, especially as the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana expands to more and more states. This year, California passed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana which will go into effect in January of 2018. In order to address the new challenges that such a bill will present to the state, the legislature has been working on new laws to regulate both the administration of the drug and its use in relation to driving.
One major regulation that will go into effect is a law against open containers of marijuana in the car, similar to the preexisting regulations against open containers of alcohol in the car. Now, it will be illegal for anyone driving to be carrying an open container, defined as “any receptacle of marijuana or weed products (edibles, vape pens, etc.) that is open, has been previously opened or has a broken seal, as well as loose cannabis flowers not in a container.” Open containers can be carried in a part of the car which is inaccessible to the driver, such as the trunk.
Starting in January of 2018, police will now be able to issue $100 fines to drivers found carrying open containers. Individuals with medical marijuana cards will still be able to carry open containers in their vehicles, although they are prohibited from ingesting the drug while driving.
In addition to the regulations on open containers, California is also investing money into two new programs: training police officers to spot drugged drivers on the road and expanding a developing technology used for testing THC levels in the blood. Currently, like in most states, blood tests are generally used to test for THC, one of the chemicals which induce a feeling of intoxication in a user. However, blood tests can be unreliable because “content in blood varies by frequency of use, weight and body fat, among other factors that give false positive results.”
California is experimenting with a new technology which uses mouth swabs to test for the presence of six different common drugs, including marijuana. Instead of testing for THC, the cotton swab is designed to “determine intoxication by identifying a particular compound that rapidly breaks down when a user has consumed marijuana.” Police officers are currently being trained on how to use this technology in certain counties in the state.
Evidence from the mouth swab has already been accepted in a California Kern County case in which a man was ultimately convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana and other drugs.
In the state of Washington, blood tests are most commonly used to evaluate an individual's level of intoxication due to the use of marijuana. However, these results are often contested. Each state will watch as California's new laws develop and technology determining the intoxication by marijuana continues to change.