Most people are aware that it's illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs, including marijuana. But if you live in one of the states that have made it legal to use marijuana for medical purposes, you might think that as long as you carefully follow the medical marijuana rules, it's okay to operate a vehicle at the same time. Not so—none of the states that have medical marijuana permit patients to drive while under the influence of the drug. These states reason that an impaired motorist is an unsafe driver, regardless of the reason for the impairment (recreational use or medical treatment).
To avoid DUI charges, medical marijuana patients should be aware of the rules they are expected to follow when they consider driving after their treatments or use. Penalties for DUI convictions can include fines, jail time, and license suspension.
Marijuana patients often wonder how they can avoid DUI charges after using medicinal marijuana. The answer starts with an understanding of how your state treats marijuana DUI charges.
To be convicted of a DUI, the prosecutor must first show that the driver was “under the influence” of marijuana (alcohol or another drug). However, state laws vary in how they define being “under the influence.” Basically, there are two ways a prosecutor can show a driver was under the influence:
The DUI laws of some states allow prosecutors to provide a DUI by either method. In other states, a marijuana DUI can be established only by proving actual driver impairment.
Laws that prohibit driving with a certain concentration of marijuana in your system are typically called “per se” DUI laws. Depending on the state you live in, a per se marijuana DUI law might set the limit at a certain number of nanograms of THC per liter of blood or any measurable amount of THC.
Impairment DUI laws also vary by state. In some states, a driver is considered under the influence if at all affected by marijuana. Other states require proof of substantial impairment.
Additionally, some states apply slightly more lenient standards to medical marijuana patients than they do for motorist who use marijuana illegally.
Learn more about these definitions and marijuana DUI laws in general.
Penalties for a marijuana DUI—even after medicinal use—can include fines, jail time, probation, and license suspension. These sentences are normally more severe for DUIs involving aggravating factors, such as:
Based on the circumstances of the case, the judge will sentence the defendant within the range of penalties specified by law.
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.