In California, driving under the influence of marijuana is a crime under Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC. However, unlike alcohol related DUI offenses, the law does not establish a particular amount of THC in the bloodstream that would qualify as impairment, which can make driving under the influence of marijuana difficult to prove. In fact, in order for you to be found guilty of the crime a prosecutor must prove that you drove a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana and as a result were unable to operate the vehicle with the caution of a sober individual under the same or similar circumstances.
A DUI of marijuana can be difficult to prove even with blood tests since a positive blood test result does not prove when you used marijuana, only that you have used it at some point. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
“It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.”
Typically, other factors are taken into account to determine impairment, including:
- Driving pattern
- Physical appearance
- Field sobriety tests
Even with marijuana laws around the country becoming more lax, and the possibility of marijuana legalization in states throughout the country, driving under the influence of marijuana will not be legalized.
How am I charged for marijuana DUI?
If you are stopped in traffic by an officer who suspects you are under the influence of marijuana, the officer will likely call in a Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) who is trained to look for signs of marijuana impairment. For example:
- Dilated pupils
- Red eyes
- The odor of marijuana
If the DRE determines that you are under the influence of marijuana you will be arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and taken to jail. You may be subjected to a blood draw to test for marijuana in your bloodstream. At trial, the DRE will also testify based on what they determined at the time of your arrest.
Penalties for marijuana DUI
The penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana are similar to the penalties for alcohol related DUI offenses. For a first-time marijuana DUI offense penalties may include:
- Informal (summary) probation for a period of three to five years, which may include drug testing
- Up to six months in county jail
- Community service
- A fine of up to $1,000
- DUI school
- Driver’s license suspension for a period of six months
However, penalties for multiple DUI offenders, or in situations where death or injury is caused, may result in felony DUI charges which could lead to a California state prison sentence as well as a license suspension of one year.
Medical marijuana cannot be used as a defense in DUI cases
Regardless of whether or not you are allowed to legally use medical marijuana it cannot be used as a defense in DUI cases. The law applies to all drugs, whether legal or illegal. If a drug causes impairment resulting in a decreased ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, you should not drive. It is important to understand that if your impairment resulted even partially from the use of marijuana you could be found guilty.
What to do if you are pulled over
Remain calm and do not make any statements or admissions to the officer. If you are arrested, you will be released from jail and given a court date which is when you can begin fighting your case. Using an experienced DUI attorney you can arrange for your hearing with the DMV (within 10 days of your arrest) to determine whether your license should be suspended. If you do not request this hearing your license will automatically be suspended.
Remember that you have defenses available to you. These defenses may include unlawful arrest or failure to perform a chemical test in compliance with California Title 17 regulations. Other defenses may include that you did not actually use marijuana, that you used marijuana but were no longer under the influence, or that your driving was not impaired.
If you have been charged with suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana call our offices today to schedule your free initial consultation, (559) 222-5800.