The Status of Marijuana in California
It is well known that Californians recently approved an initiative that allows adults 21 and older to use Marijuana if they so desire and that, already, marijuana was legal in our state for medical purposes with a valid prescription. Many Californians choose to use some form of marijuana in their home or in private — and there is no problem with this whatsoever.
However, once a person decides to drive a motor vehicle with Marijuana in their system, they may be subject to a DUI charge regardless of whether or not they are actually impaired by the drug.
In the past, when a person was arrested for a DUI based on marijuana impairment, it was often possible to get the charge reduced to wet reckless as a compromise. Even though it made no real sense, it was better for the client to push for a charge reduction than to risk a DUI conviction. The reason for this was the former use of urine tests to check for marijuana content in the body and the fact that it would remain in one's system for up to 30 days after the last dose taken. As to blood tests, Marijuana ceases to show positive sooner than with the urine tests, but the number of days later still varies greatly.
And California still has no mechanism to measure marijuana content at the present time like it does for alcohol. Since alcohol content in the blood can be precisely and practically measured by law enforcement officers, the limit of .08% BAC is workable and enforceable. But, as there is no way as yet for police to reliably measure the amount of marijuana in your system, any THC at all can potentially lead to a DUI (though it will depend on whether or not the drug can be shown to have impaired your driving).
There have been legislative attempts in the past several years to quantify the exact level of marijuana that will constitute a DUI (as parallel to the .08 for alcohol) or even to make any detectable THC at all an automatic DUI, but these have not thus far succeeded.
And there have been many claims that marijuana use is increasing car-crash fatalities in California and throughout the U.S., based on government-issued statistics, but these conclusions have often been rebuffed and disputed by other experts.
Thus, to cut through all the confusion and conflicting data, the bottom line for drivers is that despite the legalization of marijuana use in California, driving any time soon after using it will open you to a possible DUI, or more precisely a DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) charge. And the evidence will consist in signs of impaired ability to drive coupled with any detectable amount of THC in your system.
Penalties for DUI Marijuana
In general, the penalties for a DUI marijuana (or other DUID) conviction are the same as for DUI alcohol.
A first time offense can get you from 4 days to 6 months in jail, a fine of from $390 to $1,000, a 6-month license suspension, mandatory DUI classes, and use of an IID (ignition interlock device) for a period of time after your license is finally reinstated.
A second offense increases the sentence to 90 days to 12 months in jail and a two-year license suspension, while retaining the same fine and increasing the length of any required DUI School. A third DUI gets you from 120 days to 12 months in jail and the label "habitual traffic offender" for a three-year period after your conviction.
A fourth or subsequent offense is an automatic felony and will be treated especially harshly.
In many cases, a good defense lawyer can get you probation in place of incarceration time, help you obtain a restricted license so you can drive to/from work and DUI School, and may even be able to get the charge reduced to wet or dry reckless.
However, there are also many ways to fight a conviction altogether. With DUI marijuana, it may be difficult and very subjective to establish a direct connection between marijuana use and poor driving. There is no .08 mark to use a proof of impairment, so prosecutors rely on driving habits, field sobriety test failures, and physical signs of intoxication. There are other possible explanations for all of these "evidences."
If large amounts of marijuana are found in your car, there can be an enhanced sentence, but if amounts in the car and in your system, were relatively small, a good defense attorney can argue successfully to keep the charge a misdemeanor and avoid a heavy sentence. This is in contrast to the automatically enhanced sentences of DUI alcohol with excessive BAC levels like .15%.
Finally, note that even if there is not enough evidence to convict of DUI marijuana, some prosecutors will still try to convict you of "driving while addicted to a drug," which can be punished essentially the same way. Thus, a good defense lawyer needs to be "on his toes" about such tactics and ready to defeat both types of charges.
Some Friendly Advice on Marijuana and Driving
For those who have not yet been arrested for DUI marijuana, we offer some "friendly advice" on how to minimize the chances of having it happen.
Understand that the biggest problem with many marijuana smokers is that they smoke in their car. DO NOT EVER SMOKE MARIJUANA IN YOUR CAR. When most police officers stop you and smell marijuana, they are already biased that you are under its influence.
Most people will claim that they smoked a few hours ago, just like many stopped for alcohol DUIs often claim they had nothing to drink even though the only reason the officer even asked is because he could already smell it. Neither police nor prosecutors like it when people lie or deny the truth, so don't give law enforcement a reason to investigate you further.
Contact Us Today for Help
At The Law Office of Ross Howell Sobel, we have strong expertise in defeating charges of DUI marijuana in California. Attorney Ross H. Sobel stands ready to answer all of your questions about DUI marijuana and how it differs from DUI alcohol, and will apply all of his legal experience with undying tenacity in fighting in your best interests.
Feel free to contact Ross H. Sobel anytime 24/7 for a free consultation by calling 818-582-2350.