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New marijuana law leaves smokers and enforcers hazy

Mitch Strang | Evergreen Columnist

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Your ordinary marijuana smoking session results in 20 to 40 times the legal driving limit.

Implementing the new marijuana law has been controversial as well as confusing for law enforcement on local and federal levels.

While possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is now legal, it is still illegal to grow, sell and distribute any amount of marijuana.  This has the possibility of putting people in a strange situation in which possession itself is legal but all means of coming into possession of marijuana are not.

Does this mean that passing a joint at a party constitutes the crime of distribution?  The confusion does not end there; the DUI provision in the initiative has also sparked controversy over the 5 nanograms per milliliter limit.

Back in September, a man was found to be running a large marijuana growing operation just outside of Pullman, according to KLEW News.  This amounted to 78 pounds of product, or about $100,000 worth.  Sheriffs from the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office brought in the DEA to help with the arrest, which only resulted in the Feds dropping the charges. What was once an open-and-shut case such as this is now fairly complicated with 502 on the books.

“The county was thinking ‘well, that’s kind of out of our comfort zone,’ so they had the Feds come down.  The Feds came down, busted him, and then he got released, I believe that day, and they opted not to charge,” said Wynn Mosman, attorney at WSU Student Legal Services. “That’s an indication of how this is all in a state of flux. That was a lot of marijuana. I mean, that was a lot,” he said.

Students at WSU need to be aware of the strict DUI provision of 502.  It will become common for marijuana DUIs to be enforced in the coming years.

 “The risk of DWI from marijuana is entirely on the smoker, and my office will vigorously prosecute every marijuana DWI case,” Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy said.

He also addressed the concern on how long THC can remain elevated above the new legal limit.

“I am not aware of any formal studies on that, and that question brings up my biggest concern with the recreational use of pot, but the people of this state have spoken, and pot is now treated like alcohol,” Tracy said.

With a limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter, some student groups have voiced concern.

“I agree that the 5 nanogram limit is too low, but one important fact is that it does make a differentiation between active and inactive THC, which is a good thing,” NORML President Etienne Pierson said.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, significant THC concentrations are noted following even a single puff or hit of a marijuana cigarette.

“Concentrations vary depending on the potency of marijuana and the manner in which the drug is smoked; however, peak plasma concentrations of 100-200 ng/mL are routinely encountered,” according to the administration.

The concern that this concentration level is too low is warranted, given that smoking levels are routinely 20 to 40 times the legal limit.

In comparison to alcohol, about one drink is equal to around .02 on a breath test. This is only one-fourth of the legal limit. While it is known that the liver can metabolize about one alcoholic drink (1.5 ounces) per hour, the same metric equivalent is not known with marijuana.

Students using marijuana need to be careful.

“If people are concerned with future plans and ambitions, they better not drive after smoking,” Tracy said.

How long is essentially up in the air, but according to the NHTSA, around three hours is common for levels to fall below 5 nanograms, but sometimes it can take up to 10.

These blood concentrations also do not necessarily reflect how impaired a person may be.  For instance, everyday smokers may not feel the effects of a joint they smoked an hour ago, but their blood levels would still be many times the legal limit. 

It comes down to the law. Know that if you are over 5 nanograms, you are legally impaired. 

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New marijuana law leaves smokers and enforcers hazy