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Driving Under the Influence of Medical Marijuana in California

Jan 20 2017, by Jessica McElfresh in DUI, Legal Blog, Marijuana Charges, Medical Marijuana

As laws regarding the use of marijuana in California have liberalized to include even recreational use, it is tempting to assume that restrictions involving the use of marijuana while driving have liberalized as well. However, that is not the case. The marijuana DUI law in California is extremely restrictive regarding getting behind the wheel under the influence of any drug, and the chance of facing a medical marijuana DUI in California is just a strong now as it was before the recreational use of marijuana became legal.

If you are charged with a marijuana-related crime, contact McElfresh Law today at (858) 756-7107 to find out how we can help you move past charges and obtain a positive outcome in your case.

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

The DUI law in California is clear about driving under the influence of drugs. The California Vehicle Code states that, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

The code defines a drug as a substance other than alcohol that could impair a person’s ability to drive a vehicle in the manner an ordinary and prudent and cautious person would drive under similar conditions. No distinction is made in the law between prescription medications or illegal drugs.

Marijuana has the ability to impair a person’s ability to drive a vehicle, so even driving while under the influence of legally prescribed medical marijuana would be a violation of the state’s DUI law.

Difficulty in Enforcement of Marijuana DUIs

While the law may be clear regarding a medical marijuana DUI, the enforcement of the law is not as simple. Unlike alcohol, where there is a set standard for the amount in the blood that determines impairment and a breathalyzer test that can immediately determine a driver’s blood alcohol level, there are no set standard or immediate testing in use for marijuana impairment.

Chemical testing for marijuana is available, but because marijuana can remain in the blood for weeks, chemical testing does not give a reliable result as to whether a person was impaired by the drug at the time they were driving. This problem is especially true for those using medical marijuana, as the regular use of marijuana is sure to return a positive test for the presence of the drug.

Use of Drug Recognition Experts

Without a roadside drug test with the ability to determine impairment, jurisdictions throughout the state are utilizing more drug recognition experts as a way of determining if a driver is driving under the influence of drugs. Drug recognition experts are law enforcement officers trained to recognize signs of impairment due to the use of drugs and who can put drivers through a specialized field sobriety test.

Just as with field sobriety tests for drivers under the influence of alcohol, the accuracy of field sobriety tests for drugs is not guaranteed. The unreliability of these tests was recently illustrated in Sonoma County where an Alcoholic Beverage Control Officer who is trained in drug recognition evaluation arrested a driver for being under the influence of drugs based on her observation and field tests, but subsequent drug testing found only caffeine in the driver’s system.

Contact an Experienced San Diego Marijuana Lawyer

The legalization of the use of marijuana likely means an increase in the emphasis by law enforcement to enforce California’s driving under the influence of drugs law. If you use medical marijuana, this means you will be facing an increased risk of being charged with a medical marijuana DUI. If this happens, remember that the charges can be difficult to fight and you will want an experienced San Diego marijuana lawyer to defend you.

McElfresh Law offers skilled representation for medical marijuana patients, caregivers, and businesses, as well as criminal defense for marijuana charges, including DUI. If you have a marijuana-related legal issue, contact McElfresh Law today at (858) 756-7107 to learn how we can help.

California marijuana laws change frequently. For updated information, see the following pages: Medicinal Uses of Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana Business