For all of those who will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, you may find yourself wanting to eat green-colored foods and drink green-colored beverages. After all, that’s the tradition. But in light of recent trends in DUI enforcement, especially in the state of Washington, that may not be a great idea.
According to Mike Simmons, he was recently arrested for DUI in Kent, Washington, while on his lunch break. When the officer stopped him, Simmons found it bizarre that the officer asked him to stick out his tongue. However, he soon learned that the officer considered his green tongue to be an indicator of recent marijuana use. And after Simmons admitted to smoking marijuana three days prior, he was arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana.
As strange as this may sound to some, the green tongue phenomenon is, at least to some extent, accepted in the field of drug recognition and enforcement as an indicator of marijuana use. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the same agency responsible for the infamous Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, lists “green coating on tongue” in its DEC profile for marijuana. So there are many people who apparently are convinced that smoking marijuana causes your tongue to turn green.
As common sense would have it, however, there are numerous things that could cause a person’s tongue to turn green; eating a green Jolly Rancher or drinking green Kool-Aid are two that immediately come to mind. And according to the American Association of Oral Medicine, “hairy tongue” is a common condition that causes the tongue to turn any number of colors, including green. The causes of this condition range from use of antibiotics, poor oral hygiene, and even diet. Moreover, there is some debate as to whether smoking marijuana does in fact leave a green film on the tongue.
Nonetheless, some courts have already been forced to confront the green tongue issue. In State v. Wheeler, 100 Wash. App. 1062 (2000), the Washington Court of Appeals held that the defendant’s green tongue did not create a reasonable suspicion of present drug use or possession. Likewise, in State v. Hechtle, 89 P.3d 185, 190 (Utah Ct. App. 2004), the Utah Court of Appeals refused to consider, without supporting scientific evidence or other authority, the defendant’s green tongue as an indicator of marijuana use. But as Mr. Simmons’s arrest and NHTSA’s report indicate, the green tongue phenomenon has apparently taken hold in some areas and continues to play a role in drug recognition and enforcement.
So are we doomed to avoid green-colored foods and beverages in order to avoid charges of driving under the influence of marijuana? The prosecution obviously must meet its burden of proof in any DUI prosecution. But the combination of a green tongue and an admission of prior marijuana use may be, as Mr. Simmons claims, enough to get you arrested; being forced to litigate the matter can be costly even if the charges are dismissed. So until there is some widely accepted authority on the matter, the green tongue phenomenon may continue to be a tool in the DUI enforcement field. Therefore, with St. Paddy’s Day just round the corner, there is at least one more reason to moderate your consumption of green beer.
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