More and more states are legalizing the use of marijuana
, whether recreational or medically prescribed, including several on Utah’s borderlines. With this has come increased concern about impairment while driving. Marijuana may be legal, but it can still compromise your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Most states now have laws that treat drug impairment similarly to alcohol when it comes to DUI, including Utah.
Assessing impairment while drugged can be tricky. Blood alcohol testing has evolved into a pretty reliable science, and can be tested on the spot with a simple breath test. But there’s no breath test for controlled substances, and even a blood test, which may measure the amount of substance in your system, can’t define the impact that amount is having on your body, or the degree to which you are impaired.
Utah’s answer to this uncertainty has been to invoke a zero-tolerance law for drivers, officially entitled “Driving with a Measurable Controlled Substance,” or “Metabolite DUI.” Metabolites are byproducts of drugs remaining in your system following ingestion. They can be present for just about anything you’ve taken, from marijuana to prescription painkillers to antihistamines, and can stay in your bloodstream for days or weeks—much longer than any actual effect of the drug itself.
Utah’s metabolite DUI law
makes it a Class B misdemeanor to have any amount of metabolite in your system while operating a motor vehicle. There is no requirement of impairment to your driving, only that you were driving while you had drug metabolites present in your body. Penalties for a first offense can include a fine of up to $1,000, license suspension for 120 days, and up to six months in jail.
Yes, it really is as harsh as it seems, says Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney Clayton Simms
. “The law makes no connection between metabolite and the ability to drive a vehicle. You can be engaged in a completely legal activity like smoking marijuana in Colorado four days ago, drive through Utah, you’re not impaired, but it’s in your blood. You can spend six months in jail, have your license suspended. This really happens. You are at risk.”
If you’re thinking that not authorizing police to take your blood will get you off the hook, think again. Utah’s implied consent rule says that anyone driving on the state’s roads is required to submit to testing if an officer has reason to believe that they were driving under the influence. Refusal to do so will result in additional penalties, including automatic revocation of your license for 18 months or longer.
The law states that it’s an affirmative defense to Utah’s metabolite DUI that the drugs in your system were legally prescribed, involuntarily ingested, or otherwise legally ingested. However, Simms states that he has never seen this successfully asserted. “Metabolite is a status crime: it’s in your blood, and you were driving. That’s it. If you’re on any medication, you just can’t drive.”
This is complicated stuff. If you ever drive in Utah, the law is clear, and as Simms says, “you are at risk.” Should the unthinkable happen and you do get pulled over, make sure you have legal help