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Illinois Stoned Driving

On July 30, stoned driving became a possibility. Illinois became the twenty first state to decriminalize marijuana. Governor Bruce Rauner signed a law decriminalizing possession of ten grams of marijuana or less. Along with decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, the new state statute also defines driving under the influence of marijuana. Many people think that this change in the law is very positive since someone who used marijuana weeks prior to being pulled over could test positive and face misdemeanor charges and other fines. According to many defense attorneys and other specialists, the old testing styles led to wrongful convictions.

How Illinois Changed The Law

Previously in Illinois, possession of up to ten grams of marijuana was a class B misdemeanor. If someone was arrested with ten grams or less, he or she could serve up to six months in jail and could be fined up to $1,500. Under the new law, punishments for possession of ten grams or less include fines of $100 or $200 with the removal of potential jail sentences. Since 2012, Chicago decriminalized marijuana possession of up to fifteen grams. Now the whole state has followed their lead. Twenty other states have decriminalized marijuana, with many other states joining this direction. However, critics fear that cannabis users may drive under the influence of marijuana.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, driving under the influence of marijuana significantly

  • impairs judgment,
  • motor coordination,
  • and reaction time.

Marijuana is the illicit drug that is most frequently found in the blood of drivers who have been involved in accidents, including fatal accidents. However, police have difficulty determining if a driver was under the influence of marijuana. A blood test detects THC in a person’s blood days and even weeks after the person uses the drug.

Some studies show that marijuana use does not increase the risk of being involved in an accident and some studies say the opposite. One study claimed that fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled in Washington after the state legalized the drug. With all of these conflicting studies, never drive under the influence of marijuana since it affects each person differently.

Legal Blood Limits for Marijuana

Defense attorneys and other specialists have criticized the methods by which the state tests for cannabis. Currently, the state tests a person’s blood. A study conducted by the AAA in May found inaccuracies in the measuring of blood to determine if driving while impaired.

The study found that drivers can have a low level of THC in their blood and be unsafe behind the wheel. However, other drivers with a high level of THC can be completely safe behind the wheel. Each person’s system metabolizes marijuana differently than alcohol. The old law made it a crime to have any trace of marijuana in the bloodstream. If a person consumed marijuana the day before getting pulled over, the test might come back positive even though the person was not under the influence when the test was taken. Many advocates for cannabis reform saw this as a problem and wanted a change.

New Definition of ‘Stoned Driving’

Under the new decriminalization law, drivers will only be subject to DUI charges if

  • they have five or more nanograms of THC in their blood, or
  • ten or more nanograms of THC in their saliva.

Many defense attorneys and marijuana reform advocates celebrate the new law and believe it will lead to less wrongful convictions. In fact, this new law protects drivers who were not driving under the influence of marijuana when they were pulled over.

Similar to blood alcohol levels, how long THC remains in someone’s blood depends on

  • a person’s size and weight and
  • the potency of the marijuana.

Additionally, some defense attorneys believe that it will be difficult to prosecute people for driving under the influence of marijuana. It is difficult to test of THC in saliva and the blood in a systematic way. With alcohol, a police officer can use a breathalyzer. No such equivalent exists to test for marijuana. Without a warrant, drivers can refuse to submit to blood, urine, or saliva testing. State legislators and defense attorneys hope that this new law will result in fewer wrongful convictions for people who were not driving under the influence of marijuana.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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