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As legal marijuana hits Colorado storefronts, beware of “pot DUI”

In Colorado, as in the rest of the nation, driving under the influence of alcohol is a pervasive criminal charge. In fact, hundreds of Colorado drivers were arrested over the recent New Year’s holiday for drunk driving in a massive statewide crackdown.

However, in 2014 another type of impaired driving will weigh heavily on the minds of Colorado’s police force. The first shops offering marijuana that is legal under Colorado laws opened their doors in early January. In working to prove the efficacy of the state’s first-of-its-kind marijuana law, there will likely be strong enforcement for so-called “pot DUI” in the coming year.

Consider whether or not you should refuse chemical testing

As with an alcohol stop, a marijuana DUI typically begins with the arresting officer using vehicular cues to observe some sign of impairment. It could be swerving, speeding, not signaling or a variety of other slight roadway missteps.

Once the driver has been pulled over, the officer will look for other signs of marijuana impairment, such as a marijuana odor or red eyes. If the officer believes marijuana might be in the driver’s system, the officer may ask the driver to perform a standard roadside sobriety test.

These roadside sobriety tests may include the walk-and-turn or the one-leg stand. Drivers should be very cautious about agreeing to perform a roadside sobriety test. There is no legal consequence in Colorado for declining to perform a standard roadside sobriety test. What’s more, your performance on these tests can be used as evidence against you in a DUI prosecution.

On the other hand, you are required by Colorado law to submit to a chemical test if you have been taken into custody on suspicion of driving while impaired by marijuana. For a pot DUI, this can only be a blood test, as there is no breath testing device to measure the level of active THC in a person’s system (THC is the active chemical ingredient of marijuana). You can still refuse the chemical test, but there are legal consequences for doing so, namely a suspension of your driver’s license.

The legal blood limit for driving was set at 5ng of THC per ml of blood in Colorado. A jury may convict you for a pot DUI based solely on the results of the chemical test. Even so, a blood test may be challenged; unlike in a breath test for an alcohol DUI, when blood is tested a sample is retained that can be retested through an independent laboratory.

Consult a Colorado criminal defense attorney as soon as possible

Whether you unwind with a few drinks or take advantage of Colorado’s new legal marijuana, it can be easy to overdo things and wind up with a DUI arrest. While there are serious consequences for any impaired driving offense, an arrest is not the same as a conviction and you do have the right to challenge the charges against you. If you have been arrested for DUI, get in contact with a Colorado criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Sound legal advice is especially critical early in the process.