Being charged with a DUI can be one of the most difficult legal situations that anyone will ever have to go through, and they continue to be issued at an alarming rate. Throughout the country, some states are showing DUI arrests passing 200,000 per year, and many are surprised to hear that it is not just alcohol that is involved. DUIs involving the use of marijuana are a major issue, and many are unaware of the laws regarding marijuana and what will happen after being charged with this very serious crime.
Marijuana and Impaired Abilities
For many drivers, one of the most confusing parts of this situation is the ongoing campaign by many states to legalize this substance while still being illegal on a federal level. Unfortunately states agree that even if legalized, marijuana does impair an individual’s ability to drive. For example, within the state of California driving statutes claim that a
- DUI can be handed out to any driver that has consumed marijuana in any way,
- Is operating a vehicle, and
- “Whose mental abilities were so impaired they were not able to drive with the caution of a sober person.”
Field Sobriety Tests
Another area that further muddles the concept of a DUI for those under the influence of marijuana is the difficulty to thoroughly test for marijuana in the person’s system in regards to the exact time they have ingested it.
- For a traditional DUI with alcohol, any number of field sobriety tests are carried out or the officer will look for other clues such as the smell of alcohol or the demeanor of the individual.
- If the officer has probable cause to believe that the driver is under the influence, they can then require a more thorough test of blood, breath, or urine.
Standard and nonstandard field tests include:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
- Walking and turning
- One leg stand
- Rhomberg Stationary Balance Test
Chemical Testing for THC
With marijuana, however, the chemical tests used to detect alcohol will not work in the same manner.
- This means that the law enforcement officer will be much more heavily dependent on other clues such as drug paraphernalia, the distinct odor of marijuana, and the field sobriety tests themselves.
- This has led to a wide variety of organizations looking for more reliable ways to test for active marijuana use, not just THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) which can linger in the blood and fatty tissue of a body for weeks.
- The only tests currently available to thoroughly test for THC levels are blood and urine tests that could return a false positive for active use as opposed to someone that has used the drug days or weeks before.
The Truth About Driving Under the Influence
While it may be more difficult to prove without a reasonably doubt that the individual is driving under the influence of this drug, it does not mean that it is any less deadly.
- A study of 50,000 individuals published by the British Medical Journal shows that vehicle collisions, especially those involving fatalities, are almost twice as likely for those under the influence of marijuana as opposed to those that are sober.
This is why legislature continues to be pushed for more effective and efficient tests to prove impairment without a doubt.
The Lasting Impact of a DUI
While driving under the influence of almost any substance that impairs one’s motor skills and logical thinking is illegal, the application of DUI charges to those under the influence of marijuana is still not understood by many drivers. Unfortunately, this does not make it any less dangerous or decrease just how overwhelming these charges can be.
Without an experienced legal representative, drivers that are found to be guilty can expect probation for 3 to 5 years, in addition to 6 months in jail, a suspended driver’s license, and cost thousands of dollars in fines and fees.