Washington Marijuana and Drug DUI Laws

Washington’s DUI statute prohibits driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or “any drug”.  While an an alcohol related DUI is the most common type of DUI charge, people are routinely arrested and charged with driving while being under the influence of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, even prescription medications and over the counter medicines such as cough syrup and cold medicines in combination with alcohol.  It is not a defense to a DUI that one was only taking legal prescription medicines or over the counter drugs.  RCW 46.61.502 prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of any drug or any combination of drugs and alcohol. A marijuana DUI, drug DUI, prescription medicine DUI or over the counter drug DUI needs to be taken just as seriously as an alcohol related DUI. A person arrested on this charge should contact a Washington marijuana or drug DUI lawyer as soon as possible.

While the same criminal statute applies to marijuana and drug DUI as alcohol DUI, there are some major differences, from how the crime is investigated, to how it is proven, to the involvement of the Department of Licensing.

A person suspected of driving under the influence of a drug will be investigated differently than one who is suspected of driving with a .08 breath or blood alcohol content. First, an officer with some extra training in drug recognition, a so called “drug recognition expert” (DRE), may be called to the scene. And while this officer may not be an “expert” in the way society generally views the term, his presence tends to add more validity to the final police report than it may have otherwise had.  Once a decision has been made by the police that there is impairment due to drugs other than alcohol, it is likely that the person will be arrested and taken for a blood draw. Refusal to submit to a properly requested blood draw will have the same effects that a refusal to submit to a breath test would have. The main consequences would be a potential long term (one to two year) administrative license suspension and the fact of the refusal being admissible at any trial to show consciousness of guilt. See Implied Consent Laws.

Impact of I-502 passage on Prosecution of Marijuana DUI in Washington

Prior to November 6, 2012, Marijuana DUI cases in Washington were prosecuted the same as every other “drug” DUI case.  Since no per se limit of THC existed, in order to prove a marijuana DUI actual impairment had to be proven.  Now, as of December 6, 2012, the state of Washington has enacted a specific Marijuana DUI statute which proscribes driving after having a set limit of THC in the blood stream, establishes administrative licensing consequences, and provides specific funding to enforce the new law.  It is now unlawful for drivers to operate a motor vehicle with .05 nanograms or greater of THC in the blood stream as determined by an authorized blood draw and analysis.  Those who are convicted under this statute will face the same DUI penalties as one convicted under the alcohol DUI statute.  One major difference is that a blood test showing a level of THC greater than or equal to .05 will now require the Washington DOL to take an administrative action against the driver’s license as it would for .08 or higher alcohol cases.  If the action was upheld, it would mean a license suspension of 90 days to two years depending on the driver’s history.

Other Drug DUI Cases

Passage of I-502 has no impact on other drug DUI prosecutions.  It remains illegal to drive while under the influence of any drug, whether possessed and consumed legally or illegally.  But with drugs other than alcohol or marijuana, no specific legal limit has been established.  Therefore a person charged with a DUI based upon non alcohol or marijuana consumption must be shown to be actually impaired by the drug or drugs consumed.

Finally, in the case of other drug DUI, the Washington Department of Licensing only gets involved in an administrative capacity if a person refuses a lawfully requested blood test. A positive blood draw, regardless of the levels found or the substances discovered, do not implicate an administrative license suspension. Contrast this to an alcohol based DUI arrest where a breath test over a .08 or a marijuana DUI with a .05 blood level, can lead to an administrative suspension from 90 days to two years.

A marijuana or drug related DUI is different in terms of investigation and ultimate proof required for a conviction, but the ramifications and consequences are the same. From jail to license suspensions to probation and drug treatment.  See DUI Penalties. A person facing a drug DUI charge in Washington should contact a DUI lawyer as soon as possible.