Most people are aware that it's illegal to drive while under the influence of drugs, including marijuana. But if you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal and you have a medical marijuana card, you might think you're good to drive after smoking a bit or taking an edible.
Not so—none of the states that have medical marijuana permit patients to drive while under the influence of the drug. However, the DUI laws of some states do apply differently to medical marijuana patients than to people without a valid prescription.
To avoid DUI charges, medical marijuana patients should be aware of the rules they are expected to follow when getting behind the wheel. This article covers how DUI laws apply to medical marijuana patients and the penalties for a marijuana DUI conviction.
Two types of DUI laws can apply to marijuana use: laws that prohibit driving while impaired by marijuana (impairment laws) and laws that make it illegal to drive with a certain concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in your system (per se laws). Some states have both types of DUI laws, whereas other states just have impairment DUI laws that apply to marijuana.
In all states, it's illegal to drive while actually under the influence of marijuana. But state laws define "under the influence" in different ways. Most states have definitions that either make it illegal to drive while:
In states where substantial impairment is the rule, marijuana impairment can lead to a DUI generally only if significant enough to affect the person's ability to drive safely.
But in states where impairment to any extent can lead to a DUI, the prosecution just needs to prove that marijuana use affected the driver in any way at all, not necessarily that the person was unsafe to drive.
All states have per se DUI laws that apply to alcohol. However, a handful of states also have per se DUI laws that apply to marijuana use. In these states, it's generally illegal to drive with a certain concentration of marijuana in your system (for example, five nanograms per milliliter of blood). In some of these states, the per se laws make driving with any amount of THC in your system illegal.
In states that have per se marijuana DUI laws, having a valid prescription or medical marijuana card is sometimes a defense to a per se charge. However, this type of defense generally doesn't work for a DUI charge based on actual marijuana impairment.
The penalties you'll face for a medical marijuana-related DUI are generally the same as you'd be looking at for any other DUI conviction.
Penalties for a marijuana DUI—even after medicinal use—can include fines, jail time, probation, and license suspension. Generally, a marijuana DUI conviction is a misdemeanor and carries:
These penalties are normally more severe for DUIs involving aggravating factors, such as:
In some cases, the aggravating factors can elevate a marijuana DUI to a felony, which will make the possible consequences substantially more severe.
In some states, medical marijuana patients who are convicted of driving under the influence can face revocation of their medical marijuana privileges.
If you haven't been charged with a DUI, a local lawyer can inform you as to ways you can stay within the law as a medical marijuana patient who drives a vehicle. Remember, your best bet is avoiding DUI charges to begin with.
But if you have been arrested for a DUI, it's a good idea to get in contact with an experienced DUI lawyer right away. A qualified DUI attorney can tell you how the law applies in your case and help you decide how best to handle your situation.