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Is it Illegal to Drive While High in California?

Since the use of recreational marijuana was legalized in California on January 1, 2018, many people have questions about the legality of driving while high. Is it illegal to drive under the effects of marijuana in California?

The short answer is yes, it is. But while the laws surrounding high driving echo those of DUI laws, there are some key differences you, as a driver, should be aware of. Driving under the influence of any substance in California is illegal, and understanding your rights as a driver is key to ensuring that you act responsibly and stay off the roads while under the influence of any drug.

At The Law Office of Amy Chapman, we are dedicated to representing your best legal interests with knowledge, compassion and integrity, and we are happy to answer any questions you may have regarding driving while high in California.

What are the Consequences of Driving while High?

Drunk drivers are responsible for at least 25 percent of motor vehicle fatalities, and many drivers who are pulled over for erratic or reckless driving also test positive for cannabis. Because each person’s body metabolizes tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) differently, the effects of driving under the influence of marijuana may present more strongly in some individuals than others.

Factors that affect how “high” someone may become include THC tolerance, differences in smoking/ingestion techniques (such as traditional smoking vs. consuming edibles) as well as the differences in marijuana strains consumed. For example, while a “sativa” strain may acutely increase awareness in some users, it can also increase the prevalence of paranoid or erratic behavior in others.

With regards to the legal consequences of driving high, it is a crime to drive under the influence of any substance that impairs a driver’s ability to recognize and respond quickly to any threats to the safety of themselves, other drivers and pedestrians on the road. The following is outlined in California’s Vehicle Code:

DUI Offense (Drugs and/or Alcohol) Possible Penalties
1st DUI 6 months jail and/or $390-$1000 fine and/or 3-9 months DUI school and/or 6-10 months suspended license
2nd DUI 96 hours-1 year jail and/or $390-$1000 fine and/or 18-30 months DUI school and/or 2 years suspended license
3rd DUI 120 days-1 year jail and/or $390-$1000 fine and/or 30 months DUI school and/or 3 years revoked license
Misdemeanor DUI with Injury 5 days-1 year jail and/or $390-$5000 fine (plus compensation to injured parties) and/or 3-30 months DUI school and/or 1-3 years revoked license
Felony DUI 16 months-3 years state prison and/or $390-$1000 fine and/or 18-30 months DUI school and/or 4 years revoked license
Felony DUI with Injury 16 months-16 years state prison and/or $1015-$5000 fine (plug compensation to injured parties) and/or 18-30 months DUI school and/or 5 years revoked license

How Reliable are Chemical Marijuana Tests?

There is no legal standard or limit for how much marijuana is “too much” to drive. While a chemical test—administered as a blood or urine sample—can be used to prove if a driver is driving under the influence of marijuana, it is not the only way to indicate if a person is drugged driving.

These chemical tests are not without fault. Unlike how a breathalyzer can indicate current blood-alcohol content levels, conventional marijuana tests can only identify if marijuana is present in a person’s body. It cannot indicate reliably when marijuana was last used, nor can it indicate how much was used.

Due to these faults, there are a number of non-chemical ways officers will use to determine if a driver is operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana. These may include:

  • The defendant’s driving pattern;
  • The defendant’s manner of speaking towards an office;
  • The defendant’s performance on Field Sobriety Tests (or refusal to participate in them);
  • The presence of marijuana or paraphernalia in the defendant’s car or on their person; and
  • Physical symptoms of intoxication, including dilated pupils, rapid breathing/heart rate, marijuana odor, red eyes and slowed reaction time;

What if I have Been Wrongfully Accused of Driving While High?

Because of the general unreliability of conventional marijuana tests, there may come a time where you are wrongfully accused of drugged driving. Perhaps you tested positive for cannabis in a blood test, when in reality you were completely sober at the time of being pulled over.

Barring any other unsafe driving practices punishable by a misdemeanor or felony, you may be able to have your marijuana-related driving offense dismissed if the prosecution cannot prove that you were intoxicated at the time of your traffic incident.

The Law Office of Amy Chapman has an extensive understanding of California’s DUI laws, especially as they pertain to marijuana use after Proposition 64. Our Sonoma County DUI lawyers are fully committed to providing the legal assistance you need—especially during a wrongful accusation—to allow you to maintain your driving record and avoid costly fees and potential jail time. If you or a loved one has been wrongfully accused of driving while intoxicated under the effects of cannabis, contact us today to discuss your legal options.

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Law Office of Amy Chapman

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