With marijuana now legal for recreational and medicinal use in California by adults ages 21 and older, lawmakers and law enforcement have increased their focus on ensuring cannabis is used responsibly and within the law. This includes enforcement of laws regarding use in public, gifting marijuana for remuneration, marijuana use by minors, and driving under the influence (DUI). In fact, some California lawmakers had until recently been working to pass laws that impose serious penalties for motorists under 21 found driving with any marijuana in their system.
Earlier this month, lawmakers backed away from passing Senate Bill 1273, which proposed an automatic one-year driver’s license suspension for any minor under 21 caught driving with any detectable amounts of marijuana in their system. Proponents of the bill stated that it would mirror similar zero tolerance laws currently in place for minors caught driving under the influence of alcohol.
Although that law didn’t pass, the Senate Public Safety Committee did recommend an amended version of the bill that, if passed, would create the following penalties for drivers under 21:
- First Offense – Warning
- Second Offense – One point on driver’s license
- Third or Subsequent Offenses – Driver’s license suspension
While the measure is still under debate, it does serve to highlight how lawmakers and law enforcement are actively concerned about marijuana DUIs. Still, as many experts attest, some measures and even some laws aren’t always supported by a consensus of the facts. This is especially true in regard to how marijuana, and its active chemical compound THC, is processed by the body.
Unlike alcohol, marijuana metabolites can remain in the system long after its initial use and long after an individual has experienced any intoxicating effect – sometimes in excess of thirty days. Other factors, including individual size and weight, frequency of use, and tolerance, also play a role in how long THC can be detected in blood and how it affects them. Having a measurable amount of marijuana in your system, then, could mean that you recently consumed cannabis, or did so weeks ago.
As we discussed in a previous blog, this discrepancy has created many challenges when it comes to passing and enforcing marijuana DUI laws that can determine not only how much cannabis a person used or when they last used it, but also whether a driver is considered “too high” to drive with reasonable accuracy – and especially beyond a reasonable doubt (the burden of proof used to gain a criminal conviction). It has also been the basis of many successful challenges and defenses to marijuana DUI charges which allege a motorist should be found guilty simply because they had a measurable amount of THC in their system (or met an arguably arbitrary threshold).
Although more research may be needed to find an objective and accurate way to measure driver impairment in marijuana DUI cases, the fact remains that California laws still provide law enforcement officers with discretion when determining whether or not to arrest a driver You can still be arrested and charged with marijuana DUI if law enforcement has reason to believe your driving abilities are impaired, and face serious penalties if convicted.
Because marijuana legalization has created many new issues in terms of DUI enforcement, prosecution, defense, and punishment, it is vital for anyone who has been charged with marijuana DUI or any other marijuana-related crime to seek the assistance of experienced defense attorneys. At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers have earned national recognition for their work protecting the rights, freedoms, and futures of the accused, and are available to discuss your case personally during a free and confidential consultation. Contact us to get started.