Can You Get a DUI for Using Medical Marijuana?

Even if medical marijuana is legal in your state, driving while under the influence of marijuana is still illegal.

By , J.D. · UC Law San Francisco
Updated December 12, 2022

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.

How DUI Laws Apply to Medical Marijuana Use

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.

Medical Marijuana and Impairment DUI Laws

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:

  • substantial impaired, or
  • impaired to any extent.

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.

Medical Marijuana and Per Se DUI Laws

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.

Penalties for Medical Marijuana DUI Convictions

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.

Fines, Jail Time, and License Suspension for Medical Marijuana DUI Offenses

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:

  • up to $1,000 or so in fines
  • from a few days up to a year in jail, and
  • license suspension of several months up to a year.

These penalties are normally more severe for DUIs involving aggravating factors, such as:

  • prior convictions
  • traffic accidents
  • reckless driving, and
  • having a minor in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

In some cases, the aggravating factors can elevate a marijuana DUI to a felony, which will make the possible consequences substantially more severe.

Medical Marijuana Card Revocation

In some states, medical marijuana patients who are convicted of driving under the influence can face revocation of their medical marijuana privileges.

Get Legal Advice on Driving as a Medical Marijuana Patient (or Help for a Marijuana DUI Charge)

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.

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