A Denver medical marijuana patient has been acquitted by a jury of a marijuana-related DUI after being pulled over for having an expired license plate tag—not for unsafe driving. She identified herself as a medical marijuana patient when the officer who pulled her over indicated that he smelled marijuana. A blood test indicated a THC level of 19 ng/ml, exceeding the limit specified by state law of 5 ng/ml.

Driver acquitted of marijuana DUI despite high blood test

The Denver woman works at a medical marijuana dispensary and was heading to work when Westminster police said she failed a roadside sobriety test.

But Brinegar’s attorney, Colin McCallin, convinced a Jefferson County jury that Brinegar’s roadside results wouldn’t be unusual for a sober person and insisted she wasn’t impaired when she was stopped.

“She wasn`t weaving, she wasn`t involved in an accident, she wasn`t driving too slow,” said McCallin.

Brinegar was offered a plea deal, but turned it down, choosing instead to argue her case before a jury. Had she accepted the plea deal, she would have been required to abstain from medical marijuana for up to two years, which she says would have made it impossible for her to drive due to pressure on her back causing severe pain.

In many states, a DUI acquittal such as this, for a case in which the state legal limit was clearly exceeded, would be a pretty strong indicator of jury nullification because state laws typically work such that once a person is demonstrated to be above a particular blood concentration or some other measure for a particular substance, they are presumed by law to be impaired. However, Colorado House Bill 1325, passed in 2013, not only set a legal limit for blood THC content, but included a “permissive inference” provision making it possible for the defense to arguing that the accused was not actually impaired at the level of THC in their blood.

Using THC levels as a standard for a criminal conviction is disputed by many because THC can linger in the system long after any impairing effects of the drug have worn off. Even the staunchly prohibitionist National Insititute on Drug Abuse admits that:

In general, standard urine tests can detect traces of THC several days after use. In heavy marijuana users, however, urine tests can sometimes detect THC traces for weeks after use stops.

What this means is that someone who has neither harmed, nor was even a danger to them, could potentially be convicted of a crime, having their entire life upended for no reason at all. They could be imprisoned complete with substantial risks to their safety; lose their savings, property, and livelihood; lose their family; and even more. Meanwhile, taxpayers would foot the bill for incarceration and expenses after release.

Jurors can protect their communities from such unreasonable standards by voting Not Guilty—whether that is a specific defense allowed under the law, or whether they see fit to conscientiously acquit by way of jury nullification.