California’s Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, allows Californians over the age of 21 to use, purchase, possess, and grow marijuana for personal use. However, there are many misunderstandings about this law, what it allows, and the potential consequences involved in marijuana use. One common source of confusion involves driving while using marijuana: Can you get a DUI for weed?
The answer to that question is yes, there is a marijuana DUI charge in California, and it can even be a felony charge. If you have been charged with a marijuana DUI in Los Angeles, our firm can help you understand the potential consequences you face, and can help you prepare a defense strategy.
Driving While Impaired By Marijuana Is Against the Law in California
According to California Vehicle Code 23152(f), it is illegal for anyone who is under the influence of any drug to operate a motor vehicle. This includes marijuana. However, the law isn’t so simple. In addition to being found to be under the influence of marijuana when driving, you can also get a marijuana DUI in the following circumstances:
- You are found behind the wheel of a vehicle and taking action to indicate that you are going to drive the vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.
- You refused to submit to a chemical test when requested to do so by a police officer who suspects you of driving under the influence of marijuana.
The Penalties for Being Convicted of Marijuana DUI
The penalties for a weed DUI conviction are the same as the consequences of an alcohol DUI, including the following.
Increasing Severity for Additional Offenses
A first offense DUI is generally charged as a misdemeanor that can involve up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, driver’s license suspension for up to six months, and informal probation of up to five years. These penalties increase in severity with subsequent convictions within the ten-year lookback window that California applies to DUIs.
Felony Charges for Accidents and Excess Offenses
A weed DUI can be charged as a felony if:
- There was an accident involved in which someone was injured or killed.
- The defendant had more than three DUI-related convictions within a 10-year time frame.
- The defendant had a prior felony in the past 10 years.
The consequences of a felony marijuana conviction can include incarceration, suspension of your driving privileges for up to a year, and formal probation, which involves supervision by a probation officer.
The Difficulty With Testing Drivers for Impairment By Weed
There are several problems with the issue of charging someone with a DUI for impairment by weed, including:
- The active ingredient of cannabis can remain in the system for days or weeks, making it difficult to discern if the driver is actually impaired while driving or simply used marijuana at some point recently.
- The chemical tests used to detect marijuana are unable to show when the driver used the drug, and certain CBD products can result in false positives.
When you are stopped on suspicion of marijuana DUI, you will likely be given an option of a breath or blood test. While most drivers choose a breath test as it is less invasive, if an officer suspects that your impairment is the result of marijuana, you will likely be asked to submit to a blood test, as well.
While you can legally refuse to submit to a field sobriety test, you face an automatic one-year suspension of your license, even if you are not subsequently convicted of a DUI. Be aware that when you obtained your California driver’s license, you agreed to submit to these tests if asked by an officer.
Other Evidence That Can Be Used to Convict You
Police officers are not required to perform a chemical test on someone they suspect has been driving under the influence of weed. However, you can request a chemical test if you want the test to prove you haven’t used marijuana. Other evidence that the officer can use to show that you were under the influence includes:
- The smell of weed in your vehicle
- The presence of open marijuana containers or paraphernalia
- The officer observed signs of impairment, such as an inability to maintain lane control, but your breath test came back negative for alcohol
Possible Defenses in a Marijuana DUI Case
Because the chemical tests are so unreliable, there are generally several possible defenses in a marijuana DUI case. Your attorney will provide guidance and assist you in developing the best strategy for your situation. Some possible defenses that are commonly used in this type of case include:
- No impairment. You were not impaired at the time of your arrest and the chemical test either did not reveal the presence of marijuana or revealed THC metabolites in your system from past use or use of a CBD product that contained trace levels of THC.
- An unlawful arrest or improper investigatory procedures. Your attorney will look carefully at the circumstances of your arrest and the investigation to ensure that proper protocols were followed because if they aren’t, the case can be dismissed even in the presence of a positive chemical test.
- Flawed equipment. Your attorney will also check to see if the equipment used to perform your chemical test was properly calibrated and used according to directions.
It should be noted that the ability to legally possess and use marijuana is not a defense against a marijuana DUI charge, just as the ability to legally possess and use alcohol is not a defense against DUI. You also cannot present the defense that being high was only partly to blame for your impairment.
How a Lawyer Can Help If You Have Been Charged With Marijuana DUI
Our legal team can help you understand the charges against you, investigate your case to help you develop the best defense strategy for your particular situation, and advocate for your case to be dismissed or you to receive lighter consequences and reduced charges through a plea bargain. Contact us for a consultation today.