Everyone knows what DUI stands for: Driving Under the Influence. What they
may not know is that unlike other crimes, a DUI charge does not require
mental intent to violate the law. Under California law, if you are driving
with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or above, you are in violation of
the law, and you could be charged for driving under the influence. But
this is the case for driving under the influence of
alcohol. Few people realize this criminal charge can be filed for driving under
the influence of
marijuana, as well. However, there is not yet a statutory limit for marijuana like
there is for alcohol.
With recent laws being passed in various states legalizing recreational
marijuana use, marijuana is becoming increasingly mainstream. Medical
marijuana has been legal in California for years, and recently the sale
and possession of marijuana has become legal in Oregon, Washington, and
Colorado. As marijuana use becomes more prevalent, there’s still
a lot of uncertainty and misinformation when it comes to the legal implications
of driving while under its influence.
For some users, there is a long-held misconception that marijuana either
has little, or no effect on their driving abilities. While there is demonstrated
evidence that marijuana can impair your driving skills, these effects
may may vary for individual smokers. Some users believe this to also be
the case under the law: that driving under the influence of marijuana
somehow “doesn’t count” as a DUI.
This is not the case: California drivers can be found guilty for driving
under the influence of marijuana. However, the method to determine a marijuana
DUI is different from an alcohol-related DUI. As mentioned before, the
legal limit for being under the influence of alcohol is set by law. If
your breath or blood test reveals that you had an 0.08% blood-alcohol
content, that means you were—by legal definition—driving under
the influence of alcohol. There is as of yet no corresponding level that
relates to marijuana.
The active agent that gives marijuana its properties is THC. While there
are ways to test for THC levels, there is not a standardized level under
the law like there is for blood-alcohol tests. If you fail a field sobriety
test for driving under the influence of marijuana, it is the law officer’s
discretion whether your abilities were impaired due to marijuana.
The most standard blood tests for THC can reveal that marijuana has been
ingested recently, but cannot pinpoint exactly when. Because of this ambiguity,
much of the evidence deemed acceptable is entirely up to the judgment
of the arresting officer and the performance on the field sobriety tests
to determine probable cause for your arrest. Law enforcement often uses
superficial factors such as eye-redness and nervous behavior to determine
if the driver is under the influence of marijuana.
There is a sense that driving under the influence of marijuana is somehow
not as serious as driving drunk. Thanks to comedy movies and popular culture,
people assume that you simply might drive slower, or be more paranoid
than usual. Unfortunately, according to the law, the possible consequences
of driving under the influence of marijuana are no laughing matter. Penalties
range from hefty fines and license suspension to jail time and years-long
If you’re a California resident carrying a certified medical marijuana
prescription, it may be easy to assume you are safe-guarded from the law.
However, it does not allow driving under the influence of marijuana. It
is surprisingly easy to get arrested for a DUI under the influence of
marijuana. These charges must be defended aggressively with the assistance
of a qualified criminal defense attorney.