Among the more progressive states, California voters recently approved recreational marijuana use in addition to its existing laws permitting use for medicinal purposes. Consequently, it is not surprising Los Angeles law enforcement officials expect an increase in marijuana DUI incidents and arrests on the area’s roadways.
DUI Marijuana vs. DUI Alcohol
The prohibitions and penalties for DUI marijuana and DUI alcohol are the same under California law. See California VC 23152(f). Although a legal substance, marijuana falls within the state’s legal definition as a drug, which is any substance other than alcohol that could affect a person’s nervous system, brain or muscles. A driver is considered under the influence of a drug when that drug so impairs the ability to drive that he or she is no longer capable of driving as a sober person would under similar conditions.
Upon a plea of guilt or conviction, a first time DUI offender faces potential jail time, monetary fines, loss of driver’s license and probation. Second and subsequent offenses are dealt with in increasingly harsh terms. Other impacts include significant insurance rate increases or policy termination, as well as possible professional license suspensions.
Evidence used by Law Enforcement
If you are pulled over for suspicion of DUI and exhibit no signs of alcohol ingestion, the police officer who stopped you may call in for a drug recognition expert to be brought to the scene. This individual is specially trained to look for signs of marijuana use such as dilated pupils, red eyes, rapid breathing and/or rapid heart rate. Remember, however, that a conviction for DUI marijuana must show a driver not merely used marijuana but also was impaired by marijuana.
Proof of DUI Marijuana
Criminal charges require proof of the elements of that charge for a conviction. The typical DUI marijuana case involves a driver who had previously ingested some marijuana, but the salient issue is whether he or she is legally impaired. Unlike DUI alcohol laws, DUI marijuana laws have no per se component to automatically prove impairment.
If a driver is shown to have a blood alcohol content of at least 0.08, that driver is legally considered to be impaired even if no evidence of impairment is otherwise demonstrated. Although chemical tests can reveal the presence of marijuana in a driver’s system, the tests do not show when the marijuana was ingested or how much marijuana was ingested. Perhaps most significantly, there is no scientific consensus on how much marijuana leads to impairment.
Simply put, one defense that may be applicable to your case, depending on the individual facts and circumstances, is you did smoke marijuana, but you were no longer high. A study sponsored and published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration called the Drugs and Human Performance Facts Sheet, revealed some interesting matters to consider:
• Those who use marijuana casually may show its presence in their system up to 12 hours after use.
• Those who are considered frequent users may show marijuana in their systems several days subsequent to use.
• THC metabolites may be found in a chronic users system up to four weeks after use. A metabolite is produced in the body by a chemical reaction to a psychoactive substance but is not psychoactive itself.
• Your legal right to possess or use marijuana is not a defense to a DUI marijuana charge.
• Under certain circumstances, it may be a crime to be in possession of marijuana while driving.
• Possession of certain quantities of marijuana may be a crime despite your legal right to possess lesser amounts.