A Charge of DUI Doesn’t Just Mean Alcohol Impairment

It’s a common misconception that DUI charges only apply to motorists who get behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol. When a driver is stopped by law enforcement on suspicion of driving while impaired. A blood alcohol level greater than the legal limit of .08 percent can result in a charge of DUI, but what about marijuana?  

According to a recent story on the KRON website, the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study and found that the percentage of weekend nighttime drivers who tested positive for marijuana went from 8.6% in 2007 to 12.6% in 2014.

While the federal agency pointed out that “the presence of drugs does not necessarily imply impairment,” several states have zero tolerance for any trace of THC, the active chemical in marijuana, which provides the “high” in the bloodstream.

Unlike alcohol, drugs such as marijuana can stay in someone’s body for weeks and can affect people differently, and testing has proved problematic. A study conducted at the University of California in San Diego indicated that most study participants experienced a notable impact on their driving for up to four hours after consumption. 

When asked just how long can someone can be impaired by marijuana, Stanford University Professor Dr. Keith Humphries said that things had changed significantly since the 1970s. Back in the day, THC levels of smoking a joint were at 3 – 4 %. Now, with the wide range of marijuana-based products on the market, that level is closer to 25%.

“My best advice is don’t drive and smoke pot,” Dr. Humphries said. 

The state of California legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 but made it very clear that drug use in a motor vehicle is at all times illegal. If you are stopped on suspicion of impairment, and officers smell it in your car, for example, they will likely perform field sobriety tests and can order that you submit to a blood test. Drivers who refuse to comply will have their licenses suspended or revoked and face fines of up to $10,000.

California law says that even passengers may not consume marijuana or marijuana products. According to the law, the driver must keep cannabis and cannabis products in a sealed, unopened container placed away from access by passengers. 

Dr. Humphries said that it’s important to remember that those who are impaired by marijuana may not even realize it. However, it will show up in their ability to drive safely.

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