The legalization of recreational marijuana arrived with new laws and consequences early 2018, including driving under the influence.
On January 1st, 2018, California legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
With that said, you can be arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana due to the effects it has on your vision, brain, and motor skills, much like alcohol or prescription drugs.
There are some differences but they have similar consequences.
Let’s take a closer look …
Can You Get a Marijuana DUI in California?
Yes, you can get a marijuana DUI in California if a police officer concludes you lack the ability to drive with the caution that is characteristic of a sober person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances.
If a police officer suspects you are driving under the influence, he or she will pull you over and instruct you to complete a series of field sobriety tests. It is not uncommon for police officers to conduct a saliva swab test, which takes eight minutes to detect THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, as well as crystal meth, methadone, cocaine, and other prescription medications.
Marijuana may be legal for recreational use in California, but there are strict laws in place to prevent people from driving under the influence.
Effects of THC
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most prevalent psychoactive chemical in marijuana that creates the toxicity affecting erratic behavior. It is quickly absorbed into the lungs, and then into the brain, and creates that “high feeling.” It is usually absorbed within minutes and starts producing the psychoactive effects.
There is strong evidence that THC affects psychomotor functioning, cognition, attention, reaction time, and coordination. Drivers often report they have trouble maintaining a conscious effort while driving. They very often lower their speed, increase their following distance, and are hesitant to pass.
The behavioral effects of THC depend on several factors including the dose when the drug was consumed, the method of drug use, the driver’s metabolic profile, the history of use (whether first-time, occasional or chronic), the amount of driving experience, and the person’s health and age.
Testing for Toxicity
Testing for marijuana is different from testing for alcohol. You can’t be pulled over and given a breathalyzer test for using cannabis recently. But there are several other tests for marijuana, some more invasive and others more acceptable for road-side testing. One of the better tests for monitoring marijuana exposure at a roadside site is oral fluids. There is a reliable connection between THC level in the blood and saliva. Oral testing is an ideal solution for roadside screening.
Urine tests can reveal marijuana consumption days or weeks after use. Urine tests can show past use of the drug but it is a bad measure of recent use.
THC blood testing is good for establishing impairment and for providing evidence, but it is invasive and not a good method to be used for roadside screening. Blood tests are usually used during investigations of accidents and injuries.
Validity of Testing
Testing for marijuana impairment has its challenges. The timing of a roadside check is critical, especially for gathering evidence. THC impairment peaks in the blood about 30 minutes after inhalation and one to one-and-a-half hours after consumption. THC levels drop quickly after reaching their peak.
First-time users can show signs of impairment at THC levels significantly below established limits. Chronic users, on the other hand, can have high levels of THC in their blood without showing any sign of impairment. The reason is that they have developed a tolerance to the drug.
Chronic users can also have THC in their blood without recent use because the drug can be stored in fatty tissues and released into blood and urine at arbitrary times. Testing may show THC that was consumed several weeks earlier.
Punishments for Marijuana DUI
Depending on several factors, there are many possible punishments for DUI marijuana including your criminal history, if any, and the county you were arrested in.
For a first-time offense, the punishment can be three-to-five years of probation, sometimes including drug testing. It can also include up to one year in jail, or in some counties, community service in lieu of jail time of a few days to a few weeks.
Further punishment can include fines of up to $2000, mandatory twelve-week DUI education, and possible six-month suspension of your driver’s license.
Second offenses (or more) can result in several days of jail time, higher fines, longer DUI education classes, and if serious enough, state prison sentences for felony convictions.
What to Do If Pulled Over
If you are pulled over, and you are being suspected of DUI for marijuana, it’s a good idea to say nothing and remain calm. Don’t make any admissions to the officer. If you are arrested and put in jail and given a court order, you should contact a qualified DUI attorney. It is best if you find one who practices DUI law in your county. An attorney understands the difficulty of proving DUI marijuana and knows how to challenge any roadside observance or screening methods.
Your attorney can challenge the accuracy of any roadside or blood test, the testing procedures, the “chain of custody” for your blood sample (who had access to it, etc.), and other technical issues or possible violation of your rights.
Another important action you can take, if possible, is to write down everything you can remember about being pulled over. This includes your conversation and interaction with the officer and any testing conducted or other relevant information. This will help your attorney build a case for you.
In California, you have 10 days from the date of your DUI arrest to ask for a hearing before the state DMV to find out if your license should be suspended. If you fail to ask for the hearing, your license will be automatically suspended.
If your license is suspended, you can still schedule a hearing with a judge to see if you can get a conditional license to drive to work or school. There can be a time limit to schedule this hearing, so do it right away if needed.