In the past week there has been a lot of controversy in the news about “being too stoned to drive” while under the influence of medical marijuana. A marijuana DUI (Driving Under the Influence) can be issued to any person guilty of driving while under the influence of marijuana to the point where it impairs their ability to drive to an “appreciable degree.” It’s similar to an alcohol related DUI with the major exception that there is no real cut and dry answer or test that defines what is a “legal limit.”
Because of the lack of ability to define “legal limit” with marijuana and guidelines as to what level of THC in the blood stream leads to impairment, most convictions are based on using police observations and outdated or inappropriate tests. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has alluded to the fact that there will one day be a saliva test that will detect RECENT marijuana use, but this will still fail to address the question of impairment.
With alcohol, a simple blood tests shows if a person is over the legal .08% blood alcohol legal limit. Not so easy with marijuana. THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active ingredient in medical marijuana and cannabis products used by medical marijuana patients, stays in the urine and blood long after use, skewing any results from tests as to recent use or level of impairment.
Currently, law enforcement agents who suspect recent marijuana use will subject the driver to the same field sobriety tests that are given when alcohol is suspected. The officers have the burden of proof and will use observations gathered during administering roadside tests to establish evidence of impairment. They often will also ask drivers to take either a urine or blood test.
Marijuana stays in the urine much longer than the blood, several days versus hours. Drivers most likely will pass a blood test if they have not recently used and do not use medical marijuana on a daily basis. Otherwise, opting for a urine test is a better choice for establishing a defense against ‘recent’ use.
If prosecuted for a marijuana DUI, your strongest chance of dismissal is to hire an attorney to fight the charge. If charged, California penalties for a marijuana DUI are similar to those of alcohol: loss of driving privileges for six months to a year, 3 to 5 years of informal probation, fines up to $1000, and possible sentence to attend court approved DUI classes.
Bottom line: Driving while impaired by any drug is illegal in all states. Even if you have a Medical Marijuana Card (MMIC) or doctor’s recommendation for marijuana, the valid use of medical marijuana does not protect you from prosecution of a DUI. Best bet, be safe and just don’t drive after recent use.