Marijuana has been a major political topic over the last several years. Many states have made the move to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Although laws vary state to state regarding appropriate usage and possession, what remains the same across all 50 states is that driving while under the influence, even under the influence of a legal substance, is against the law. This is true even with a medical prescription. Not only is it illegal but it can also be dangerous to drive while physically or mentally impaired by a substance such as marijuana. Knowing and understanding the laws surrounding DUIs is important for the safety of yourself and others on the road.

Marijuana Traffic Laws

As with most traffic laws, different states approach the issue of drug impairment differently. There are different classifications around the country for driving while under the influence of marijuana. The specific chemical found in marijuana that psychologically affects the user is Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC. This chemical is what officers and investigators are testing for when evaluating if a driver is under the influence or impaired by the drug.

Driving While Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) is when a driver is under the influence or affected by a drug. Many states use DUID testing, which can be done using oral fluid roadside testing. Several states operate under what is defined as zero-tolerance laws. This means that a driver is found to have any amount of THC in their body at the time of the stop, it is considered breaking the law.

Another category of law that many states follow is the per se law. This applies when the driver has any detectable amount of THC that is over the legal limit, which is defined by the state, to cause impairment. If a person has been found to exceed the legal limit, measured in nanograms, they are considered legally impaired and can face charges.

There is also a reasonable inference law which is used in Colorado. This states that if a driver’s blood quantity of THC is 5 ng/ml or above, they are presumed to be impaired. However, this differs from the per se laws because the driver can take an affirmative defense, stating that they were at the legal limit, but not impaired.

Medical Marijuana Use

Medical marijuana has been legalized in many states for several years. There are over 3 million medical marijuana patients nationally. The medicinal purposes include pain relief, treatment for certain anxiety disorders, appetite growth and more. The usage of medical marijuana is less likely to impair someone while driving as these products often contain less THC. The primary agent in medical marijuana is CBD, which affects the brain differently, making it potentially safer for consumption before driving considering it has less psychoactive effects. However, driving with amounts of detectable THC above the legal limit is still subject to charges.

Marijuana DUI Charges and Penalties

Penalties for a marijuana DUI fully depend on the laws of the particular state and on the circumstances of each case. Similar to driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges, a marijuana DUI can come with mandatory license suspension, hefty fines, and mandatory substance abuse counseling or classes. For more serious charges, jail time could be ordered. If facing marijuana DUI charges, it is important to contact an experienced drug DUI defense attorney.

“Drug DUI charges can be difficult to understand and carry very serious consequences for one’s future,” says Attorney Brian Leifert of Leifert & Leifert. “It is important to contact a tough DUI lawyer who has experience with the marijuana laws. They can investigate the case, ensure that evidence was properly collected, and clarify the process along the way. A lawyer could help a defendant avoid jail time, achieve a lesser sentence, or work to dismiss the charges if the circumstances allow. Handling a drug DUI without an attorney is absolutely not advisable.”

It is important to know the laws and regulations of the state when it comes to consumption of marijuana, whether for medicinal or recreational purposes. The traffic laws still apply. If a driver is found to have higher than legal detectable amounts THC in their system, they can face legal consequences, even if it was being used for medicinal purposes. Knowing the laws and knowing personal limits are two important ways to prevent dangerous accidents or life altering criminal charges.