Have you been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of marijuana? If so, depending on the facts of your particular case, it may be possible to have your charges reduced or even outright dropped. This is because the State’s burden of proving you were actually impaired by marijuana, as opposed to having merely used it, is far more complicated than showing you were impaired from the use of alcohol in the typical DUI case.
Florida legalized the use of marijuana for certain medical purposes in 2016. However, while the state has legalized marijuana for medical use, it continues to be illegal for recreational use. And, regardless of whether you have a medical prescription for marijuana or you use marijuana for recreational purposes, you can be charged with DUI of marijuana if you have any amount of cannabis in your system. Further, when it comes to DUIs, Florida law doesn’t use terms like ‘driving drunk” or “driving high.” Instead, Florida makes it illegal for you to drive under the influence of a substance to the extent your “normal faculties” are impaired whether that substance is alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs or a combination of these substances.
The critical difference between an alcohol DUI case and a marijuana DUI case is that THC, the chemical responsible for producing the marijuana “high”, can remain in your system for a long time after it is no longer psychoactive and therefore not having any effect on you. For example, if you smoke marijuana, the “high” generally peaks after about 10 minutes and lasts only from about 1 to 3 hours. Nonetheless, even though you are no longer “high”, you can have a positive THC test several hours, days or even weeks after you used marijuana. And that positive test will used by the State in an attempt to prove you were DUI of marijuana even though its effects had long worn off.
The police typically investigate a marijuana DUI by calling an officer to the scene of your traffic stop who is a “Drug Recognition Expert” or “DRE.” Impairment in marijuana DUI cases initially is investigated by using the same standardized field sobriety exercises (FSEs) as in DUI alcohol cases. Your performance on the FSEs can adversely be affected by certain medications, balance issues, prior or current injuries, ear conditions or the conditions of your shoes, among other factors.
The investigating officers additionally will note observational evidence indicating your normal faculties are impaired, such as the smell of marijuana from your vehicle; your bloodshot eyes and/or dilated pupils; being unsteady on your feet; your unusual speech pattern and slow responses and/or movements; your driving pattern, including speed, weaving or other indicators of impairment; and the presence of marijuana and/or paraphernalia in your car.
Crucially, however, currently there is no equivalent of the breath test machine used in alcohol DUI cases for marijuana DUI cases. Thus, there is no way for the State to establish an objective measurement indicating you were impaired by marijuana. Ultimately, if you are arrested the officers will request your consent for a blood or urine sample to be taken to test for the presence of THC. That test will merely confirm the presence or absence of THC in your body. As discussed above, however, a determination of whether that THC was psychoactive at the time you were driving is the critical inquiry in your case.
Further, even if you had ingested marijuana shortly before your arrest doesn’t necessarily mean your normal faculties were impaired. In February 2015 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the results of “the first large-scale [crash risk] study in the United States to include drugs other than alcohol,” which it described as “the most precisely controlled study of its kind yet conducted.” That study concluded that, after controlling for various factors, a detectable amount of THC in the blood did not increase the risk of accidents at all. Having a blood alcohol level of at least 0.05 percent, though, increased the odds of being in a crash by 575 percent.
The penalties for, and stigma associated with, a marijuana DUI can be just as severe as for an alcohol DUI. If convicted, a judge must sentence first time marijuana DUI offenders to up to 6 months in jail, up to 12 months reporting probation, between 6 and 12 months driver’s license suspension, a fine of between $500 and $1000, 10 day vehicle impoundment, 50 hours of community service, completion of a 12 hour DUI Substance Abuse Course, and completion of a drug/alcohol abuse evaluation and any recommended follow-up treatment. For a second offense, the punishment for a conviction increases dramatically, including potential mandatory jail, huge fines, a one-year license suspension and installation of an ignition interlock device for one year.
In addition to the DUI charges and penalties, you may also be charged with other crimes depending on your particular situation. Criminal charges related to a marijuana DUI may include possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana, and distribution of marijuana. Each of these charges could carry additional penalties.
Have you been charged with marijuana DUI even though you were completely sober? If so, you may be able to have your charges reduced and/or dropped after we demonstrate any THC in your body was no longer psychoactive and was therefore not affecting your mental or physical abilities to drive your car at the time of your arrest. If you have been arrested for marijuana DUI in Duval, Nassau, Clay, Baker or St. Johns Counties, you should immediately consult with a Jacksonville Marijuana DUI Attorney to help you get the best possible result in your case. Call me now for a totally free consultation to discuss how I can best help you with your marijuana DUI case.