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New penalties for boating under the influence take effect Sunday

A change in Washington state law taking effect Sunday ups the penalty for boating under the influence and includes limits for marijuana intoxication.

Boating under the influence will be upped from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor and will be punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The legal limit for marijuana use is 5 nanograms, to be measured by a blood sample obtained through a warrant.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the legislation in May.

Spokane County Sheriff Deputy Craig Chamberlin said law enforcement and citizens pushed for the change, to both clarify the law in regards to marijuana and to make the penalty harsher.

“It gives us more teeth,” Chamberlin said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that a blood test without a warrant may be unconstitutional. Chamberlin said the sheriff’s office has obtained warrants when excessive marijuana use is suspected.

He said a deputy can place a citizen under arrest with probable cause, such as someone slurring their speech or driving a boat erratically. Sobriety field tests are not reliable on the water because of rocking boats, he said.

The suspect stays in custody until a warrant is obtained for the blood test. That can take time, Chamberlin said, although there is always a judge on call.

Results can take up to a month.

In Idaho, the penalty for boating under the influence is still a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Any amount of marijuana is still illegal in Idaho.

Chamberlin said the biggest difference between driving under the influence arrests in cars versus boats is the initial stop. On the water, deputies can perform regular boat safety checks and therefore do not have to have a reason to make a stop. On the road, law enforcement has to have a reason to pull over a vehicle.

Another difference is open container restrictions. Boaters can have open containers of alcohol, unlike drivers.

“The driver obviously just cannot be impaired,” Chamberlin said.



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