With almost half of all states legalizing medical marijuana, and more states joining the list permitting recreational marijuana, it seems like the outdated stigma of the drug is wearing off. However, just because you have a medical marijuana card does not mean that the police can't arrest your for driving under the influence. A marijuana DUI conviction carries the same penalties as drunk driving, including losing your license, heavy fines, DUI school and probation.
California was the first state to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes. Since that time, 22 other states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and more states, including California, may be joining that list soon. However, whether marijuana is used for medical reasons or recreational use does not matter to the cops.
California's DUI laws do not make a differentiation for what drug is used or why it is used. This includes illicit and illegal drugs, including marijuana. Under California Vehicle Code 23152(e), it remains “unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”
The Vehicle Code defines a “drug” as “any substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, which could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his ability to drive a vehicle in the manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious man, in full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would drive a similar vehicle under like conditions.”
People dispute how much marijuana affects their ability to drive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “marijuana significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time, and studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability.”
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) does not necessarily agree with the danger of driving under the influence of marijuana. They agree that cannabis intoxication can mildly impair psychomotor skills, but argue that the impairment does play much of a role in actual traffic accidents.
One of the ways police officers detect a driver under the influence is by the strong smell that marijuana smoke leaves on clothing, or the interior of the car. Red eyes may also indicate a marijuana-impaired driver. In many cases, drivers will admit that they were smoking marijuana, but may overstate how long ago it happened. When the police arrest a driver for a drug DUI, they will usually ask for a drug or blood test. Refusal to submit to a chemical test after a DUI arrest may lead to an automatic one-year license suspension.
If you are were arrested on suspicion of smoking marijuana and driving, your arrest does not have to end in a conviction. With more than 30 years of experience defending people facing a marijuana DUI in the East Bay, Lynn Gorelick understands the local laws and penalties involved. Contact a local East Bay DUI defense attorney who understands the impact of a DUI conviction, and is familiar with the local laws, prosecutors and the courts.