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Marijuana DUI a Growing Concern in California

 Posted on November 27,2018 in DUI Drugs

Santa Cruz marijuana DUI defense lawyerCalifornia law enforcement officers have faced a growing challenge over the past two years: how to keep the roadways safe from people driving under the influence of marijuana

Marijuana DUI Arrests Have Risen Since 2016

Two major events have led to an increase in marijuana use in California and a corresponding concern about driving under the influence of cannabis. First, Proposition 64, the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, was passed in November 2016; this allowed individuals to grow and use marijuana for their own recreational purposes. Second, Proposition 64 also legalized the sale of marijuana to anyone age 21 or older, effective January 1, 2018.

Drugged driving arrests have risen significantly in California since the state legalized the use of recreational marijuana. The Orange County crime lab reported that requests to process blood samples related to marijuana DUI arrests rose 40% between November 2016 and June 2017. In addition, the California Highway Patrol reported that marijuana DUI arrests increased 31% from January to August 2018 and that injuries attributed to marijuana DUIs doubled.  

California Laws Governing Marijuana and Driving

California law clearly states that it is unlawful to drive under the influence of any drug, including cannabis, or, more precisely, its psychoactive element THC. However, the state has not defined a legal limit for THC the way it has established a limit for blood-alcohol concentration (BAC). This makes it harder to prove that a driver is guilty of marijuana DUI beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Prosecutors must build a case upon the arresting officer’s observations of driver behavior (e.g., swerving in and out of a traffic lane), field sobriety tests, any smell or sight of drugs on the driver or in their vehicle, statements made by the driver, and the conclusion of a specially-trained drug recognition evaluator. Courts must evaluate the totality of evidence to reach a verdict.

Some States Have a Legal Limit for THC, But California Does Not

The human body processes alcohol and THC very differently. Scientific research has been able to show a correlation between a person’s BAC and their level of impairment, and BAC can be easily tested with a breathalyzer or blood test. The same has not been possible for THC, because there is a wider person-to-person variability in how long it takes for any intoxicating effects of THC to build and decline, and THC can still appear in the bloodstream long after any intoxicating effect has worn off. Thus, while .08% is an often accepted BAC level for alcohol intoxication, there is no such consensus on a THC level that proves a driver is unsafe to drive.

Despite the lack of consensus on how to measure THC-based driver impairment, some states have nonetheless chosen to define a legal limit for THC. For example, Washington and Illinois have set a legal limit of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

A California Task Force Is Studying the Issue of Drug DUI

The Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act directed the creation of a task force on impaired driving, which is to deliver a report with policy recommendations by January 1, 2021. Specific areas of focus for the task force are:

  • Technology and best practices to improve identification of drivers impaired by marijuana, prescription drugs, and other controlled substances.
  • Evidence-based approaches to reduce the number of repeat DUI offenders without resorting to costly prison sentences.
  • The impact of cannabis legalization on highway safety.

Call a Knowledgeable Santa Cruz, CA Marijuana DUI Lawyer 

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana, alcohol, or other drugs in Santa Cruz County, call an experienced Santa Cruz marijuana DUI defense attorney. John W. Thornton has defended clients in criminal courts in the area for over 30 years. His familiarity with the area’s criminal justice system and his deep commitment to defending his clients’ rights make him ideally suited to handle your case. Call 831-426-5800 to schedule a free consultation. 


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