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Can Legal Use of Marijuana Lead to a DUI in California?

 Posted on May 21,2019 in DUI

Santa Cruz criminal defense lawyer

Although medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, it has only recently become legal for recreational use. In 2016, California legalized the adult use of marijuana, joining several other states, including Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. This was done through Proposition 64, the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act. However, while marijuana has been legalized, it is important for California residents to understand what is and is not legal, as well as the potential consequences that may come with being charged with DUI while under the influence of marijuana.

Marijuana Laws in California

Proposition 64 allows for the recreational possession and use of marijuana for adults 21 years and older, within specified amounts. A person cannot have more than 28.5 grams of cannabis, 8 grams of concentrated cannabis, or more than 6 living marijuana plants in their possession (absent a license to do so, the rules of which seem to change by the day). This law does not affect previous laws regarding marijuana, such as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act and the Compassionate Use Act.

Although both alcohol and marijuana are legal for people 21 years and older in California, the use of either by the driver of a car can lead to a DUI. Right now, it is fairly easy for police officers to show probable cause for an alcohol DUI arrest. An officer will typically use a breathalyzer test or field sobriety tests to check for alcohol impairment during a stop. A first DUI charge can lead to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, along with the suspension of a person’s driver’s license.

Probable Cause for Marijuana DUI

Intoxication by marijuana can be difficult to determine. Even if there seems to be some evidence of drug use, such as a driver’s clothes smelling of marijuana, this does not necessarily mean the driver was impaired by the substance while driving. While the estimation of a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) can be determined with a breathalyzer, there are limited options to test for the presence of marijuana in a person’s system and whether they are intoxicated. In addition, no legal limit for marijuana intoxication has been established at this time in California.

Without more accurate testing, police officers often have to make a subjective call to determine if someone is driving while high. This can often be hard to determine, because the effects of marijuana are not as obvious as alcohol, and they can vary from person to person. In the past couple of years, some California police departments have used certain devices to test for drug intoxication at DUI checkpoints. However, while these devices may detect the presence of THC in a driver’s saliva, they cannot tell whether a person is actually impaired by the amount of marijuana that is in their system.

Due to all of these factors, it is possible for a driver to be wrongfully arrested for a marijuana-related DUI due to mistakes or bias by an officer. If you believe that your DUI arrest for marijuana impairment was invalid, you can defend against the charges. An attorney can help you determine your options for defense, including asking to have charges dismissed if there was no probable cause for your arrest or if there is not sufficient evidence that you were driving while intoxicated. If your case is dismissed, or if you are acquitted of DUI charges, the record of your arrest can be expunged.

Contact a Santa Cruz, CA Marijuana DUI Lawyer

A responsible user of marijuana should not be punished as the result of a poor investigation by a police officer. If you have been arrested for DUI related to marijuana, contact an experienced Santa Cruz DUI defense attorney who will work to clear your record after a wrongful arrest. Call our Santa Cruz office at 831-426-5800 for a free consultation.


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