Marijuana and the Motorist: Deciphering Drugged Driving Laws

In November 2016, California voters made a momentous decision by approving Proposition 64, a landmark initiative that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in the state. This measure allows individuals aged 21 and older to possess and consume marijuana for personal use. With the passage of Proposition 64, California joined a growing number of states in recognizing the benefits and complexities of regulating marijuana use.

However, alongside the legalization of marijuana comes a set of regulations and responsibilities, particularly concerning its impact on public safety, notably in the context of driving. Driving under the influence of marijuana poses severe risks to the driver and others on the road. In California, drugged driving laws are aligned with those governing drunk driving, as outlined in California Vehicle Code § 23152.

Understanding the implications of drugged driving laws is crucial for all motorists, especially those who may face charges related to driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). Being charged with DUID can have severe consequences, including fines, suspension of driver’s license, and even imprisonment, depending on the case circumstances. A defense lawyer can provide support and representation throughout the legal process, working diligently to protect your rights and seek a favorable outcome.

At the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C., we understand the complexities of DUID cases. We are committed to providing exceptional legal representation to clients in Santa Rosa and beyond. Please contact us at (707) 418-5352.

How Marijuana Impairment Alters Driving Abilities

Marijuana profoundly affects various cognitive and physical functions crucial for safe driving. The consumption of marijuana can impair motor skills, leading to decreased coordination and balance. Additionally, it slows reaction time and diminishes decision-making abilities, essential for navigating unexpected situations on the road. Furthermore, marijuana use distorts perception, altering a driver's ability to accurately assess distances, speeds, and other critical factors while driving.

Differences Between Marijuana and Alcohol Impairment

According to a Healthline article, marijuana and alcohol can impair coordination, reaction time, and decision-making. However, marijuana impairment tends to manifest differently, often resulting in a more relaxed or disoriented state compared to the more aggressive or erratic behavior associated with alcohol intoxication.

California’s Law on Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

In California, no separate statute exists specifically addressing drugged driving. Instead, driving under the influence of a drug, including marijuana, is encompassed within subdivision (f) of California Vehicle Code § 23152.

According to California Vehicle Code § 312, a drug is defined as any substance other than alcohol that could significantly impair a person's nervous system, brain, or muscles, affecting their ability to drive safely.

Thresholds for Marijuana Impairment

Unlike alcohol, which has a per se limit of 0.08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC), no specific numerical threshold for marijuana impairment exists in California.

Instead, evidence of impairment from marijuana may include observable driving behaviors, such as:

  • Weaving or erratic driving
  • The presence of marijuana in the vehicle
  • Physical signs such as dilated pupils or red eyes
  • Slowed reaction times

Law enforcement officers may also call upon a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to assess a driver's impairment based on their observations and testing.

Penalties for Marijuana DUI

The penalties for driving under the influence of drugs in California are similar to those for alcohol DUI convictions.

For a first-time DUID offense, sanctions may include:

  • A jail sentence ranging from 96 hours to six months
  • A fine ranging from $390 to $1,000
  • A six-month driver's license suspension

Subsequent offenses carry harsher penalties, including longer jail sentences, higher fines, and longer license suspensions.

Your Rights When Stopped for Suspected DUI of Marijuana

When you're pulled over by law enforcement under suspicion of drugged driving, it's crucial to understand your rights to protect yourself legally. First, you have the right to remain silent and refrain from answering any questions that may incriminate you. You are not obligated to admit to consuming drugs or performing field sobriety tests. However, you must provide your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance upon request. Additionally, you have the right to refuse roadside chemical tests, such as a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test or a portable breath test (PBT).

Remain calm and cooperative while asserting your rights. Politely decline to answer any questions about drug use or consent to any searches of your vehicle or person without probable cause. Avoid making statements that could be construed as admissions of guilt, as anything you say can be used against you in court. Instead, provide only necessary information, such as your identification and vehicle documents, and refrain from engaging in unnecessary conversation with law enforcement.

Navigate Marijuana DUI Charges with Legal Help

While recreational marijuana may be legal in California, operating a vehicle under the influence of the substance remains a serious offense under the law. If you’re accused of marijuana DUI, seek legal guidance from an attorney handling criminal defense matters. A skilled lawyer can devise a strategy to fight charges.

To schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. in Santa Rosa, please call (707) 418-5352 or message us online.

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