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Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and DUI Charge Basics

4 min read

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By Tim Lee

Operating a vehicle while you are under the influence of cannabis or another substance can result in DUI charges, fines or even incarceration. Read on to find out more.

Many states have decriminalized cannabis. In fact, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, and about one-third of them also allow recreational usage. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to smoke and drive, though, even if you’re in one of these states. If you get caught, you may end up with a DUI or other criminal charges.

What Happens if You Smoke Marijuana While Driving?

Let’s compare marijuana usage to alcohol. Sure, you can have a beer at home if you’re of age, but you can’t chug one behind the wheel. That’s known as drunk driving, and there are serious legal repercussions such as license revocation and DWI charges. A DWI means that you are driving while intoxicated.

When a driver uses marijuana in a moving vehicle, an officer can issue a DUI citation DUI citation Define: DUI A citation that occurs when a person is driving under the influence of marijuana or another controlled substance. .

DUIs are not limited to automobile drivers. You can get a DUI while operating a bicycle, motorcycle, scooter, boat or other form of transportation. Basically, if you’re moving and smoking or drinking alcohol, you can get charged with driving under the influence.

On top of receiving a DUI charge, you may cause an auto accident or get hit with a personal injury lawsuit if you drive while high. Many people hire a DUI attorney in situations like this because they want to minimize their legal consequences. A poorly handled DUI case can also have lasting implications on your career, rental abilities and employability.

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What Are the Penalties for Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana?

Operating a vehicle while you’re under the influence of marijuana can result in a DUI. If you’re a first-time offender, a DUI may have minor consequences. Some judges work out deals where offenders have DUI records dismissed or expunged after meeting certain guidelines. This may include attending classes about drugs or alcohol, enrolling in a drug rehabilitation program or honoring the terms of a probation agreement.

Unfortunately, consequences aren’t always minimal. If you’re a repeat offender, either for a DUI or another crime, you may face bigger penalties.

Here are some potential DUI penalties for marijuana users:

The officer who issues the DUI citation is not who decides your fate. Your case must be heard by a judge or prosecuting attorney before you are formally charged with a DUI. The court decides which penalties, if any, should accompany your DUI charge.

How Does the Legalization of Marijuana Impact DUIs?

As we discussed earlier, many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use or recreational purposes. However, zero states believe it’s okay for cannabis users of any type to drive immediately after using.

It’s essential that you learn your state’s laws regarding marijuana usage, as you may be deemed under the influence for cannabis you smoked days or even weeks ago. Marijuana remains in your system for approximately 30 days, which can be problematic if an officer or judge requests a drug test. However, many states are more lenient with medical marijuana patients than individuals who are caught driving after recreational use.

Some states classify a driver as under the influence if THC Define: THC Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly called THC, is the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. levels exceed a certain figure, even if you aren’t driving erratically. This can easily happen if you smoke regularly, even if you didn’t use marijuana the same day you’re pulled over by an officer.

Other states say a driver must exhibit signs of impairment before receiving a DUI citation. These can be big signs, such as swerving across the road, or small signs, such as red eyes or an ashtray with a partially smoked joint. An officer can even claim that you smelled like marijuana, even if you looked fine and were driving safely.

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What Are Some Defenses for Driving While Impaired?

Remember, receiving a ticket for a DUI does not mean you have been convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana. You still have a chance to share your side of the story in court.

Here are some defenses you or an attorney may use during your DUI hearing:

In many cases, the court must prove without a reasonable doubt that you violated DUI laws. The court must show that you intentionally operated a vehicle while you were under the influence. Some states also require a court to prove that marijuana directly impaired your ability to drive safely, not just that it was in your system.

Don’t panic if you receive a DUI citation. You can plead your case in court, whether you were floating down the river after eating edibles or driving to the store a few hours after smoking marijuana.

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Tim Lee



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