Marijuana is a controlled substance and is legal or illegal, depending on where you live. However, it is unlawful to smoke or ingest marijuana and drive– even in states that legalize the use of marijuana. When you are caught DUI of marijuana, you can be arrested and charged if it impaired your mental ability in a way that you couldn’t drive with caution of a sober person using reasonable care under the same situation.
Effects of marijuana
Marijuana has two main compounds – cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The former is a non-psychoactive compound, while the latter is the primary psychoactive compound. So, although both these compounds have similar medical benefits and can address a range of solutions, CBD does not cause euphoric effects that arise with THC. THC causes temporary side effects like:
- Memory loss
- Slower reaction time
- Coordination issues
- Increased heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
- Mood changes
So, driving under the influence of marijuana can put your life and the life of other road users in danger because of its side effects. That’s what makes its use while driving unlawful even in states that legalize it.
Understanding DUI laws in marijuana cases
You can be convicted of a “per se” DUI if you drive with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more. In states with “per se” DUI laws, drivers with a certain percentage of marijuana in their system are considered under the influence. In other words, these states have laws that bar driving with a specific amount of THC in your body. DUI laws in all states make it unlawful to drive under the influence of marijuana or any other drug.
Per se laws
A prosecutor needs to produce blood results demonstrating you were over the specified limit to prove a per se marijuana DUI. If he or she can do that, it won’t matter whether your ability to drive was affected by marijuana. The case only depends on the amount of THC in your system.
“Impairment” varies from state to state. That’s why, in some states, you can get a conviction when the prosecutor proves that marijuana affected you in any manner. However, in other states, the prosecutor needs to show a significant or substantial effect from the pot. In which case, they will need to get information like lousy driving, unusual behavior, slurred speed, and poor field sobriety test performance from the arresting officer.
Driving conducts like swerving, weaving within lanes, driving too slowly, being asleep in your car by the roadside, and failing to stop at a red traffic signal or stop sign. The arresting police will attempt to determine if marijuana in the cause of impairment by observing your eyes, smell, heart rate, and breathing. If the officer believes you are under the influence, he or she will ask you to submit a blood, urine, or breathe test.
Marijuana DUI penalties
All states apply some combination of the following as punishment to DUI convictions:
- Jail time
- Community service
- License suspension
- Ignition interlock device use
- Victim impact program participation
- License suspension
- Car forfeiture or impoundment
- Alcohol and drug abuse programs
If you believe that the arrest was not lawful, then you can argue with the officer to defend your rights. You can take a chemical test and allow your DUI lawyer to fight the legality of your arrest. If it turns out that the arrest was not lawful, the test results will be discarded even if they show you had used marijuana.
THC can still be traced in your system up to 12 hours of inhalation or ingestion, even when the effects have already subsided. The presence of THC metabolites in your urine samples only indicates that you could have used marijuana in the past month. So, in as much as the District Attorney can use the detectable THC to argue that you displayed impairments signs based on a range of evidence, a good defense lawyer can prove that other aspects (save for marijuana) led to the inaccurate conclusion.
Getting legal help for marijuana DUI charge
DUI of marijuana is a serious charge – much less like drinking and driving. In addition to affecting your chances of getting employed, it may also make it hard for you to obtain insurance. If you do get insurance, you may end up with high premiums. And in the event you are convicted with a DUI again, you’ll possibly face enhanced punishment.
That’s why you need to get the help of a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer. The emphasis should be on his or her skills and expertise. A good defense lawyer for you should have experience with DUI of marijuana as a subspecialty. It is an added advantage if the lawyer is local because he or she will have experience with the courthouse where your case will be heard, as well as the judges and prosecutors involved in your case.