The widespread legalization of cannabis has ushered in a new era of laws, regulations, and enforcement mechanisms aimed at detecting and preventing drivers from using cannabis and derivative products while driving. The good news is, the Cannabis DUI lawyer at Johnson Criminal Law Group is experienced handling both types of cases.
A marijuana DUI is a very different case than an alcohol DUI. The prosecutor still needs to prove that the driver was impaired while operating their vehicle. But the evidence for proving impairment is different. In a typical alcohol DUI, law enforcement can collect blood or conduct a breathalyzer to prove a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. Testing for cannabis impairment is more challenging, unreliable, and can be subject to a greater time since use than alcohol While the legal limits for both substances are still high, a driver under the influence of marijuana may be subject to lesser punishment or even dismissal if the case can't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
A marijuana DUI arrest typically happens during a traffic stop. CHP or a local agency's officer may observe a vehicle being operated in a way that is unsafe or erratic. The officer might also smell cannabis or see smoke coming from the passenger area of the vehicle. These observations can give the officer probable cause to initiate a traffic stop. Once the officer contacts the driver, the officer will observe the driver's behavior. The entirety of this interaction can be used as evidence in a marijuana DUI case. Much of what the officer observes is subjective and can be challenged at trial.
Marijuana DUI cases have a high rate of dismissals and not guilty verdicts due to the current lack of reliable chemical testing. Because cannabis is a fat-soluble compound, it metabolizes much slower and stays in the body much longer. As such a driver may be subject to a urine test after being pulled over, however that doesn't necessarily mean that the driver was impaired while operating the vehicle.
Cannabis may cause a different type of impairment, but most states apply the same penalties for driving while high as they do for driving drunk. A fine, drug rehabilitation, and community service may be imposed for a marijuana DUI. However, the burden of proof varies between states and the evidentiary standard is much higher for an alcohol DUI.
A marijuana DUI is not as easy to prove as an alcohol DUI. The court will look at subjective evidence to determine whether a driver was under the influence of marijuana. The driver must be found to have a measurable amount of THC in their system before they can be accused of a marijuana DUI. Those who are suspected of cannabis DUI may have to undergo additional testing as part of sentencing. Currently there are no ignition interlock devices for cannabis DUIs like there are for those convicted of alcohol DUIs.
If you are charged with a marijuana DUI, your car insurance rates will likely increase just like with an alcohol DUI. The penalties for a marijuana DUI are just as severe as an alcohol DUI, including a potential six-month jail sentence and 12 months of probation. In addition to these, you will be required to undergo drug or alcohol abuse treatment, and a lengthy community service program. You may also lose custody of your children if you are found to have endangered them, or your job if you are required to operate a vehicle.
Although the two offenses are very similar, there are some differences. Marijuana is harder to detect in the blood than alcohol, and the drug is easier to transport than alcohol. Similarly, a marijuana DUI can be a felony depending on the state in which the crime was committed. For this reason, it is important to understand the laws in your state. States without legal cannabis will most likely have stricter penalties than states with legal cannabis.