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Does Legalizing Marijuana Lead to an Increase in Alcohol Consumption?

Researchers at the University of Washington posed this question recently, but no clear-cut answer was reached because of inconclusive State and federal government data. The researchers also tried to answer the opposite question: Does legalizing marijuana lead to a DECREASE in alcohol consumption? Again, the government data the researchers were able to collect did not conclusively answer this question either. Our top DUI lawyers have seen an increase in DUI marijuana cases, although DUI-alcohol arrests still account for the overwhelming majority of impaired driving cases.

Recreational marijuana use is legal in four states, and medical marijuana is legal in in 23 states. Washington State legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012. But these “legalized states” and the other states currently are having a difficult time trying to pinpoint the change, if any, in the number of DUI-marijuana arrests. According to a Denver Post article published in February 2014, “There is currently no comprehensive way to track instances of marijuana-impaired driving in Colorado. Such cases are charged in court under the same law as alcohol-impaired driving cases, meaning the two can’t be separated in judicial data.”

No roadside DUI breath test or DUI blood test exists today that can detect marijuana in a driver’s system. And even with a blood test administered at a local hospital after an impaired driving arrest, the presence of marijuana can be misleading because the drug can be detected in a person’s system for days or even weeks after use. In Georgia, a person can be charged with DUI-marijuana charges if the driver’s system contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, even if a police officer does not observe driving impairment. If a Georgia driver is suspected of using marijuana, a DUI blood test or DUI urine test will be ordered and carried out. A marijuana breath test machine is currently in development so local police can more easily measure the amount of marijuana that a person smoked or ingested.

If and when a marijuana breath test machine becomes standard equipment at local police departments, it is left to be seen if states and/or the federal government set a minimum blood marijuana content level above which a driver can be charged with DUI-marijuana. For example, the current blood alcohol content (BAC) limit in all 50 states is 0.08% for drivers 21 and over, 0.02% for drivers under 21, and 0.04% for commercial CDL drivers. Will the federal government enact a similar minimum level for concentration of marijuana in a person’s system?

In DUI-alcohol arrests, a police officer can obtain a quick roadside breathalyzer test result from a suspected impaired driver to determine if alcohol was consumed before driving occurred. This breath test BAC result is not admissible as police evidence in a court of law. In Georgia, the “BAC number” is not admissible, but a police officer is allowed to testify that the RESULT was “positive” for alcohol.

The question of if legalizing marijuana leads to an increase in alcohol consumption, and more importantly, an increase in DUI Marijuana arrests, will be researched and analyzed more and more as the trend in legalizing marijuana continues across the country. Critics of legalized marijuana laws may try to sway the results in their favor, and may use a correlation to increased drunk driving to repeal these new laws. DUI-marijuana and DUI-alcohol cases are a highly specialized area of criminal law, and require the best DUI lawyers to successfully present the most well-planned DUI defense strategies in court.

Even a slight increase in alcohol consumption and subsequent DUI-alcohol arrests can have major ramifications in legalized marijuana states. “We chose to focus on alcohol because even relatively small changes in alcohol consumption could have profound implications for public health, safety and related costs” said Katarína Guttmannová, a researcher in the UW’s Social Development Research Group.

Lawmakers in legalized marijuana states are hoping that alcohol consumption goes down even as marijuana use goes up because of alcohol’s devastating impact on healthcare costs, traffic accidents and lower workplace productivity. But if legalizing marijuana results in increased use of alcohol, or in an increase in the simultaneous use of both drugs, the damaging effects on society would be alarming. State lawmakers and advocacy groups like the “National Organization for the Repeal of Marijuana Laws (NORML)” are hoping that legalized marijuana will become a substitution for alcohol and not a “complimentary” drug.

Call one of our local DUI Marijuana attorneys in your area to learn the facts about how to win a DUI Marijuana or other DUI-drugs case. Call now at 1-888-839-4384 24 hour hours a day, 7 days a week, including all holidays.

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More DUI Drugs Resources

If you’d like to learn more about DUI for illegal drugs, take a look at some of our comprehensive articles on the subject below: