Under California Vehicle Code 23152 operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol is against the law. Being charged with suspicion of driving under the influence does not require much; in fact for the most part prosecutors simply have to have a reason to believe that the defendant is guilty of DUI. However, in order for a person to be found guilty of DUI the prosecution must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was both driving and intoxicated at the time of their arrest.
Proving marijuana intoxication
In most instances it is easier to demonstrate in court that a person was under the influence of alcohol while operating a vehicle than it is to prove that they were using drugs. Alcohol is easier to test for and can be detected within the bloodstream. Breath and chemical tests are often used to determine a person’s BAC (blood alcohol content). Despite the fact that breathalyzer test results can be challenged for numerous reasons, they are still utilized by law enforcement on a regular basis.
The use of drugs, in particular marijuana, is much more difficult to prove because blood and breath tests cannot provide an accurate calculation of intoxication as they would with alcohol (represented by BAC). Marijuana can also stay within a person’s system for extended periods of time. Even if blood were tested it would not necessarily indicate that the defendant was under the influence of marijuana at the time of their arrest. They could have used marijuana a day before, a week before, or possibly even longer. Despite this fact, if you have been charged with a DUI while under the influence of marijuana, a marijuana prescription will not provide an adequate defense. While it is not illegal to use medical marijuana if you have the proper medical prescription, it is illegal for a person to operate a vehicle if they are under the influence of marijuana.
That is a distinction that many people fail to make. Just because you have a prescription to use medical marijuana does not mean that you have the legal right to use it at any time and under any circumstances. As a matter of fact, of the states that have legalized medical marijuana, none of them permit medical marijuana users to drive while under the influence of the drug. These states use the logic that an impaired driver is an unsafe driver regardless of what substance has caused their impairment. While some states allow a driver to use prescription medicate as a defense to DUI charges medical marijuana is always excluded from this exception.
Avoiding medical marijuana DUI charges
To avoid DUI charges, medical marijuana users should always be aware of the laws they are expected to abide by. If you are unsure of your legal rights with a medical marijuana prescription, or if you have been charged with DUI while under the influence of marijuana, you should consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. DUI penalties can be harsh and a conviction can have significant impacts on your personal and professional life including:
- Lost wages
- Community service
- Alcohol/drug programs
These penalties can also increase depending on the circumstances of your DUI, such as multiple offenses.
If you have been charged with a medical marijuana-related criminal offense it is in your best interest to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The penalties and consequences of a marijuana charge vary but a knowledgeable attorney can help inform you of how cases like yours tend to be handled and can assist in addressing any questions or concerns you may have.