The Washington State Legislature is looking at imposing tougher penalties for people who repeatedly drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as well as changing how police determine if a driver was driving under the influence of marijuana.
According to the Spokesman-Review, Spokane County had 1,216 DUI arrests last year and an increase in marijuana-related accidents and what law enforcement calls poly-drug DUIs – some combination of alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs or heroin.
Current Washington law makes the fifth DUI in 10 years a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The Senate passed a bill unanimously last month that would make the fourth such conviction in 10 years a felony, with at least 13 months of prison time.
Testing drivers under the influence of marijuana or other drugs is becoming a problem because there is no easy breath test that can be administered in the field. Determining the level of THC, requires a blood test. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, has a separate bill to make it easier for law enforcement officers to get those tests.
Current law requires a certified medical technician to draw blood that can be tested for drug levels. But the process often involves obtaining a search warrant, then taking the suspect to a hospital for the blood draw. That process often takes so long that the level of THC in the blood has dropped below the legal limit by the time testing happens.
A bill that passed the Senate 30-to-19 last month would create a new specialist for law enforcement agencies known as a forensic phlebotomist who receives special training to be able to draw blood from a vein.