How Common Are Marijuana Related DUIs?
Since January 1, 2018, it has been legal to use recreational marijuana in California. However, driving under the influence of cannabis is a crime.
California LawMarijuana can impair your physical and mental ability to operate a vehicle. If caught smoking or under its influence while driving, you can be arrested for DUI. A first-time offense can result in 6 months of jail time, a fine up to $1,000, or a license suspension of 6 to 10 months. Offenses range up to a felony DUI with injury, with up to 16 years in a state prison, a fine up to $5,000, and a 5-year license revocation.
Marijuana-related DUIs have been on the rise, but police are facing various challenges when it comes to catching drivers. First, the effects of marijuana are not always as evident as those of alcohol. An officer can pull someone over if they*re driving erratically, but proof of cannabis use can be gained through the defendant*s statements, visible drug paraphernalia, or via Field Sobriety Tests.
Physical signs of a marijuana high include dilated pupils, rapid breathing and heart rate, bloodshot eyes, and slowed reaction time.
Field Sobriety TestA Field Sobriety Test may include physical and mental exercises such as:
Walk and Turn Test: Also known as the *walk the line test*, this can reveal symptoms such as loss of balance; a person might stray from the line, stop walking, or start before being instructed to.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: An officer asks a person to follow their finger with their eyes; if the individual is highly intoxicated, involuntary eye movements may give away their lack of sobriety.
One Leg Stand Test: The individual is asked to raise their foot and stay still, count, and look down; if they*re high, they may sway, hop, or put their foot down before the test is finished.
The problem with these tests is they*re not always effective. For example, tracking eye movements is reliable 77% of the time; the other tests are even less reliable. Some people are able to compensate for their marijuana use, which makes it difficult to prove a DUI.
Testing for THCSeveral tests can identify the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana in a person*s body. A blood test is the most common way to find delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, it may take up to two hours after a traffic stop to draw a driver*s blood.
Breath, saliva, or urine tests may be used as well. Since THC can be detected up to a month after a person last smoked marijuana, the viability of these tests to prove a DUI is low. Just because there*s a positive result, it doesn*t prove the person was under the influence while driving. They may have not smoked that day or may have relatively recently, but no longer be under its effects.
Proving a Marijuana DUITo prove a person violated the law, it must be shown they were driving the vehicle, were under the influence of the drug, and their mental/physical abilities were so impaired they couldn*t exercise the caution of someone who is sober under similar circumstances.
Therefore, a few barriers exist to making marijuana DUI arrests and convictions. Nonetheless, it may take circumstantial evidence and the help of an attorney to sort out all the fine details.