Washington Driver Gets Six Months for 'Marijuana-Related' Crash That May Have Had Nothing to Do With Marijuana

The state's new standard for stoned driving can make innocent people guilty.



Today a pot smoker received a six-month jail sentence, followed by five years of probation, in a case that seems to illustrate the injustice caused by Washington state's new definition of stoned driving. Scotty Rowles was driving his 1995 Ford pickup truck on East Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver around 6 p.m. on December 17, 2012, when Donald Collins stepped from the median into the street in front of him. According to KPTV, the Fox station in Portland, Oregon, "Investigators said Collins was close to two different lit and controlled intersections, but stepped out in the middle of traffic to try and cross the road." On the face of it, Collins' death was not Rowles' fault. But a police officer smelled marijuana on Rowles, who admitted that he had smoked "a little bowl" one or two hours earlier. He was charged with vehicular homicide.

Prosecutors dropped that charge after concluding that there was insufficient evidence to support it. But they changed their minds after a blood test put Rowles' THC level at 7.2 nanograms per milliliter, 2.2 nanograms above Washington's new cutoff for driving under the influence of marijuana. Because of that rule, which was included in the marijuana legalization intitiative that voters approved a month before the accident, Rowles was guilty of DUI even if he was not actually impaired. Since THC is absorbed by fatty tissue, regular cannabis consumers may test above five nanograms all the time, meaning they can never legally drive, whether or not their performance is affected. Knowing he would be convicted of DUI automatically, Rowles pleaded guilty to that charge rather than risk a trial for vehicular homicide.

Although news reports described this accident as the first marijuana-related traffic fatality in Washington after voters approved legalization, it's not clear that marijuana had anything to do with it. KPTV says Rowles "failed field sobriety tests," but that does necessarily mean he was impaired. Aaron Pelley, a Seattle defense attorney who specializes in DUI cases, says these tests are "essentially designed for people to fail." (More on that here and here.) KATU, the ABC station in Portland, reported that one of Rowles' relatives told police "he was not impaired when he got behind the wheel." Admittedly, that is not a neutral source, but neither is a cop responding to a fatal accident who smells marijuana on someone's breath and then has to assess his performance on field sobriety tests.

"It's just a tragic accident," Rowles told Collins' family at today's sentencing, "and what hurts the most is that I did slam on the brakes. I couldn't stop in time to miss your loved one." The judge himself conceded that Rowles may have been fine to drive. "If you had not partaken in the marijuana, pot, and driven, would the outcome have been different?" he said. "It may not have been. It may have been. We'll never know for certain."

According to police, KPTV reported last year, the circumstances of Collins' death "would clearly put him at fault." But under Washington's new per se standard, Rowles is "is technically at fault." Does that sound like justice to you?

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  1. No, it’s not justice but it could be much worse

    6 months is very light compared to what would happen in most states. If the cxircumstances were the same except for the driver having a .08 blood alcohol he’d be lucky to get off with 5 years.

    1. A kid who used to play football for me is in that exact situation now. Except his BAC was .04, but since he’s only 20 that’s all it takes to fuck the rest of his life because somebody else pulled out in front of his car.

      1. If the other driver has a BAC over the legal limit, is this what happens?

  2. That’s what you get for driving on government roads. Was he smoking government licensed pot too?

    1. Now it’s all government licensed. Except for the illegal stuff.

      1. Next thing you know, people will be shooting up movie theaters after using government regulated drugs, dispensed by government scrutinized stores, proscribed by government licensed doctors. Mark my words, nothin’ but trouble a comin!

        1. With a capital T and that sounds like P and that stands for pot.

  3. “Rowles, who admitted that he had smoked “a little bowl” one or two hours earlier. ”


    1. He should have watched that “Don’t talk to the cops” video, 1000 times.

      1. Smokin’ that shit makes most people stupid.

        1. I don’t know, many unemployable vagabonds I’ve met extol the miracle virtues of the weed and swear they have never suffered any negative effects, maaaaaaan.

          1. correlation = causation

        2. Well that’s just like your opinion man.

          1. it is just his (or her i guess) opinion. i personally can’t work (im a cook, so speed and memory are very important) worth shit when im stoned, but ive worked with people who legit do a better job stoned. the drug itself is only half of how it affects you (your body chemistry is the other half)

  4. Rowles is “is technically at fault.” Does that sound like justice to you?

    Technical justice — it’s THE LAW!

  5. As a regular pot smoker and WA resident, this is never far from my mind. And it isn’t pleasant.

    1. The nanogram standard is insane. You could have smoked two weeks ago and still be over the limit.

      1. Just goes to show you how dangerous pot is.

  6. Ya they seriously need to re-write the at-fault laws. If I step out in front of a monster truck with no plates, driven by a coked out STEVE SMITH with an empty Cuervo bottle on the dash then the max charge should be not registering the vehicle.

    Fuck other peoples safety, don’t jump into oncoming traffic… You fucking noisy two-legged meat sticks.

    1. I like your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. I have already been described as cold-blooded, so maybe someday I could be an honorary reptile.

      1. Your membership card is in the mail, we also included a helpful guide for proper hiss noise greetings. Thank you for your participation inYour Future Reptile Overlord Trustee Program

        1. Thank you noble overlord. May your heat lamp never develop a short.

  7. Someone posted this article in PM links about Panda bears being unable to properly digest bamboo because they lack the proper enzymes. Question: Wouldn’t it be possible to genetically engineer baby pandas in utero so that they had the proper enzyme? If so, what would the reaction of anti-GMO people be if we started using GMOs to save endangered species?

    1. GMO Panda! Wait, what were we talking about?

      1. I knew a guy in high school who did that to a Gremlin. Yeah, we laughed at it behind his back a lot.

    2. Sounds like they lose the Darwinian lottery. Any species that has as much shit wrong with it as the Panda…can’t eat bamboo…can’t reproduce except under the most specific probably destined to extinction. Time to let it go. And, no, I don’t care that they’re cute.

      1. Screw Darwin, I want my Franken-Pandas!!!

      2. Pandas are hardy survivors compared to California Condors. It offends me that a heavily subsidized, domesticated remnant population still flies in the same air that I breathe.

      3. Fuck Darwinism, I want to take my kids to see pandas in the zoo. Which likely means, as Irish suggested, GMO pandas. Science trumps evolution. Checkmate, atheists.

    3. It’s proof of re-incarnation. SJW’s come back as pandas. I mean think about it…won’t fuck…an obligate carnivore who insists on being Vegan…can’t decide what color they should be…

  8. says these tests are “essentially designed for people to fail.”

    I always suspected as much. I can’t process the alphabet backwards sober.

  9. Chris Christie: We must destroy your civil liberties in order to save them.

    Chris Christie on the NSA: “You can’t enjoy your civil liberties if you’re in a coffin”

    1. “You can’t enjoy your civil liberties if you’re in a coffin”

      Some of us enjoy our civil liberties just fine despite our fetishes.

    2. It reads like a threat.

    3. Screw that extremist Patrick Henry, am I right?

      1. And for that matter, screw the entire state of New Hampshire (“Live Free or Die”).

        Uh oh, Christie may be in some trouble. At least I hope so.

    4. strong counterterror protocols are actually the best guarantor of civil liberties insofar as they’re our best chance of preventing another mega-attack on America.


      They killed 3000. We killed anywhere between between 150,000 and 1M in Iraq alone.

      Zod forbid the US is ever REALLY attacked by a real threat. Imagine the liberties we’d be willing to trade then.

    1. Chelsea is beginning to look like she has been holding on to that ring she found in the river a little too long.

      1. It was a birthday present!!!!

    2. That’s some of her best work. She has a face for radio.

    3. Government Employees Insurance Company …..It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway

      Makes Sense.

  10. “If you had not partaken in the marijuana, pot, and driven, would the outcome have been different?” he said. “It may not have been. It may have been. We’ll never know for certain.”

    Counterfactuals are impossible to prove so get in this cage.

  11. This has been the standard for the demon brew since MADD in the 80s. Someone else causes the accident, but if you are drinking you somehow magically assume all responsibility.

    It took legal pot for reason to notice this?

    1. It is surprising that this sort of “up is down” by legislation is not ruled an unconstitutional violation of due process.

  12. These sort of definitional crimes are the close cousin of “zero tolerance” stuff at schools where drawings of a gun gets a kid suspended. There are a lot of situations where you are deemed guilty regardless of other facts.

    In Georgia you are guilty of speeding if the police officer says you are. By law. The only legal challenge to a radar-timed ticket is to ask if he was properly certified, if the instrument was calibrated or if he was located on too steep of a slope (of which there are only 2 in the entire state). A video on your go-pro that shows that you were parked the entire time would not even be looked at. There is no opportunity for “he made a mistake and pulled over the wrong black Honda Accord”.

    1. I once watched a cop’s radar gun register 35 while pointed at a light post (and only a light post). I always wonder how many tickets for going 35 miles an hour over the speed limit he wrote before anyone noticed.

  13. When I was stationed in Great Britain, we used to tell new arrivals that if you wanted to kill someone, just hit them with your car. Provided you were stone cold sober, the only penalty was having your license suspended for some ridiculously short period of time. However if you a hit a cow, you were well and truly financially fucked.

    1. However if you a hit a cow, you were well and truly financially fucked.

      How about the Sheep?

      1. Sheep are expensive, but still cheaper than a cow. Apparently some medieval law still in effect at that time mandated that you were liable for the cost of the cow, and the cost of its lifetime production of milk, and the cost of its offspring, and the cost of their lifetime production of milk. If it was unavoidable that you hit either a farmer or his cow, aim for the farmer.

  14. they dont practice justice, they practice law. and Tony Soprano would be proud of their tax payer scam. “Criminal” justice, indeed.

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