DUI Accidents and the Legalization of Marijuana
Illinois is one of the most recent states to have recreational marijuana legalization take effect. In the debate surrounding marijuana legalization, driving under the influence of the drug has been one of the greatest points of concern. It is dangerous to use any drugs or alcohol while driving. Although marijuana impairment may not be especially hazardous when compared to alcohol, its legalization presents a new kind of DUI danger: A type of impairment that is not testable in the same way as alcohol intoxication.
Is Marijuana Legal in Illinois?
Recreational marijuana use was officially legalized by the Illinois General Assembly on May 31, 2019. The law took effect starting on January 1, 2020, permitting recreational marijuana sale and use throughout the state. In the first month of recreational marijuana legalization in Illinois, sales totaled approximately $40 million, according to ABC 7 news. The initial success of legalization in the state caused a supply shortage, which disproportionately affected medical marijuana patients. The shortage prompted additional legislation that extended the hours that medical marijuana businesses can stay open, and ordered retailers to prioritize the needs of patients over recreational users.
The marijuana laws in Illinois do permit the presence of cannabis products in vehicles — having marijuana in the car does not indicate driving impairment or warrant investigation. However, driving under the influence of any mind-altering substance is still illegal in the state of Illinois. Drivers who are suspected of using marijuana while driving may be asked to take a field sobriety test and could be arrested and asked to submit to a chemical test.
Can Police Test for Marijuana Impairment?
As of right now, there is no way to test for marijuana impairment in the same way that a breathalyzer can test for alcohol impairment.
Current marijuana tests can detect the presence of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in the body. When a driver submits to a chemical test, “If the testing comes back positive for more than 5 nanograms of THC… per milliliter of blood or for more than 10 nanograms per milliliter of another ‘bodily substance,’ the driver’s license will be revoked, on top of potential criminal charges,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. A driver can also have their license revoked if they refuse to submit to a chemical test.
These tests are faulty when detecting driving impairment because THC can be stored in the body for an extended period of time. Depending on the amount a person smokes, their level of body fat, and many other factors, THC can be detected in the body for weeks or months. Additionally, the presence of THC in the body does not always indicate impairment, and marijuana impairment cannot be detected in the same way as a blood alcohol percentage. Marijuana presents another unique difficulty to law enforcement because it affects every person differently — impairment cannot necessarily be quantified.
While many feel that a marijuana testing equivalent to the breathalyzer is not possible because of the way the drug affects the body and is stored, research is still in development. Currently, law enforcement in Illinois is exploring potential alternative testing options.
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