The Washington State Patrol is arresting more drivers who test positive for marijuana than in previous years. That’s according to the latest statistics from the state toxicology lab.
The Washington State Patrol said that in the first half of 2013, 745 drivers tested positive for “active THC” from using marijuana. In recent years, about 1,000 drivers have tested positive for marijuana over the course of the year. So if the 2013 trend holds steady, this year would see a sizable increase in the number of marijuana-impaired drivers arrested.
State patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said it’s too soon to draw conclusions.
“It is statistically significant but at this point not alarming,” Calkins said. “And that’s mainly because of time. We’ve got to see how this goes and what direction it goes before we switch to any kind of a condition that someone might call ‘alarmed.’”
These test results don’t break out which drivers also had alcohol or other drugs in their systems. And he said the results could be skewed by more troopers seeking the blood test than in previous years.
Calkins said Washington’s efforts to legalize marijuana could be related to the increase. People may see marijuana as less risky now and be more likely to use it before driving.
When Initiative 502 legalized marijuana in Washington last year, it also implemented a new “bright line” rule for the level of marijuana in someone’s blood that can justify a DUI conviction. About 15 percent of the drivers tested in 2013 had more active THC than the new legal limit. That’s in contrast to 11 percent the year before. Critics say the standard is flawed and could unfairly penalize some drivers who aren’t impaired by their marijuana.
But Calkins said his agency is bound by the standard nonetheless. And he said proving that someone used marijuana recently is an important tool in court. He said if someone’s THC levels are above the new standard, “We will at least be able to say that they smoked very recently before being arrested, and the jury can infer that that was irresponsible.”
Calkins notes that overall DUI arrests haven’t increased, just the number that are marijuana-related.