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New marijuana laws highlight need for new roadside tests

Authorities in California and around the country have a seemingly comprehensive arsenal of laws, equipment and protocols in place for identifying and removing from the roadway those drivers who operate motor vehicles while under the influence of alcohol. As the legal use of marijuana becomes more widespread, however, states are finding that the methodology involved in determining whether a marijuana user is driving while impaired is not so clear-cut.

In the case of marijuana, chemical traces of the drug can remain in a user's blood or urine sample for weeks after use without rendering that user impaired. Although the race is on to develop a reliable field test that can accurately detect the amount of THC present in the body, such Breathalyzer-modeled devices are not yet available for use.

Another glaring issue facing lawmakers concerns the problematic lack of agreement over what amount of THC in the body while driving is too much. Results of a study conducted by the Automobile Association of America's Foundation for Traffic Safety earlier in the year show that different people are affected in different ways by the presence of identical levels of the metabolites in the body. The report concluded that setting legal limits for marijuana use and driving is not supported by science, suggesting that motorists and public officials would both be better served if other testing barometers were employed instead.

One retired sheriff deputy and drug detection expert in California agrees, saying that science does not yet support roadside testing for cannabis impairment. Drivers who find themselves facing legal trouble regarding this issue may want to seek legal counsel. Because there appears to be a widely recognized margin for error in this matter, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to have the charges reduced or dismissed dependent upon the full particulars of the client's case.

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