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Judge John E. Turner (Ret.)

Scientific merits of THC testing disputed by AAA

Washington Initiative 502, which was approved by voters in November 2012, legalized the recreational use of marijuana in the state, but the measure has been criticized by some road safety advocates. Studies show that the number of drivers in Washington who use the drug has increased, but research conducted on behalf of AAA shows that measuring marijuana impairment can be flawed.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the blood tests used to measure THC content and determine impairment are unreliable. it believes that, unlike alcohol, increased THC levels do not necessarily equate to higher levels of intoxication. This is because casual users of the drug could be significantly impaired with blood THC levels that more seasoned marijuana users might not even notice. THC also dissipates rapidly, and the time it takes to obtain a search warrant could lead to inaccurate blood test results.

Rather than relying on blood tests, AAA recommends that specially trained police officers be used to gauge driver impairment. These officers are taught how to determine a driver's level of intoxication based upon factors such as the dilation of their pupils, their demeanor and even the color of their tongues.

Criminal defense attorneys are unlikely to support measures that could lead to DWI charges being filed against motorists based solely on the opinion of police officers. A criminal conviction requires accusations to be substantiated by compelling evidence, and the motives of even those officers who have received specialized and thorough training may be called into question. Defense attorneys may review toxicology test results closely, and they could call for DUI charges to be dismissed when the scientific evidence supporting them is lacking or questionable.

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