Driving Under the Influence in California: What You Need to Know
Driving Under the Influence in California: What You Need to Know
Hey there! My name is John and I’m an attorney here in California. I wanted to have a chat with you today about driving under the influence (DUI) laws in our state, specifically when it comes to marijuana use. I know it can be a confusing topic, so I’ll try to break things down in a helpful way.First off, let me be clear: it is illegal in California to drive while impaired by any substance, including marijuana.
I know medical marijuana is legal here, but that card unfortunately won’t get you off the hook if you’re charged with a DUI.Now, you might be wondering how they can prove you’re impaired by weed, since there’s no breathalyzer for it like there is for alcohol. That’s a great question. Let me walk through what typically happens when you get pulled over:
During the Traffic Stop
If a police officer suspects you’re under the influence of anything, they’ll first look for visual signs of impairment like bloodshot eyes or slurred speech. They may also ask you to step out of the car and do some field sobriety tests—you know, walk the line, stand on one foot, that sort of thing.The officer will also likely ask if you’ve been using marijuana or any other substances. I don’t recommend admitting to anything, even if you do have a medical card. That can only hurt your case down the line.
At the Police Station
If the officer believes you’re impaired, they’ll arrest you and take you to the station. At that point, they may draw your blood and test it for THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Here’s the thing: THC can stay in your system for weeks after use. So even if you smoked a joint days ago, it could still show up in your blood.This is one reason it’s tough to fight a weed DUI—there’s no way to prove impairment from a blood test alone. It just shows past use, not current intoxication like a breathalyzer does for alcohol.
In the Court Room
If your blood comes back positive for THC, the prosecution will argue that proves you were impaired while driving. But it’s not quite that simple.As your attorney, I’d argue that just having THC in your system doesn’t mean you were actually high at the time of the traffic stop. The prosecution still has to prove you were impaired—not just that you used marijuana at some point.I’d also attack the field sobriety and blood tests themselves. Believe it or not, there are issues with their accuracy and reliability, especially for weed.For example, many researchers say that standard field sobriety tests are designed to detect alcohol impairment, not marijuana. They aren’t as accurate for identifying high drivers.As for blood tests, it’s possible the sample was contaminated or the lab made mistakes in processing it. The prosecution needs to prove the results are legit.The bottom line is there are absolutely ways to fight a marijuana DUI charge. But it takes an experienced attorney to look at the details of your case and build the best defense.
What a Medical Marijuana Card Means (and Doesn’t Mean)
I know many people think a medical marijuana card gives them free reign to drive while high. That’s just not the case. Having the card only allows you to legally use weed for medical purposes—it does not exempt you from DUI laws.Some important things to keep in mind:
- Having a card is not a valid defense against a DUI charge in California. The law still considers you impaired if you drive high.
- You can still be arrested and prosecuted for a marijuana DUI even if you’re a registered patient.
- Cops do not need probable cause to test your blood for THC if you have a card. They can test you based solely on reasonable suspicion of impairment.
- If you refuse a blood test, your license can be suspended for a year, even with a medical card.
I’m not trying to scare you, just want you to understand how the laws work! The takeaway is that you should never drive if you feel impaired after using medical marijuana, even if you have a card. It’s still risky business.
What About CBD Products?
CBD is a chemical compound in marijuana that doesn’t cause impairment or intoxication. Many people take CBD oils, edibles and other products to help with medical issues without getting high.So does that mean you can drive after using CBD without worrying about a DUI? Well…it depends.The problem is that CBD products aren’t regulated very well, so there’s no guarantee what’s actually in them. Some may contain traces of THC without disclosing it on the label.If you get pulled over after taking CBD, the officer will look for signs of impairment just like with marijuana. If they suspect you’re high, they can still arrest you for a DUI.My advice would be to err on the side of caution with CBD. Be very careful about driving if you feel different in any way after using it, even if you think it’s just CBD. And read the label closely to check if there’s any THC.
Fighting a Marijuana DUI in Court
If you do get charged with a weed DUI, the good news is there are defenses that can help you fight it. Here are some strategies I may use as your attorney:Challenge the traffic stop. If the cop didn’t have reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first place, we can argue the whole case should get thrown out due to an illegal stop.Question the field sobriety tests. Like I mentioned, these are subjective and don’t always accurately indicate marijuana impairment. I’d bring in expert witnesses to challenge their validity.Dispute the blood test results. I’d scrutinize the procedures used by the lab to test your blood sample for flaws. Contamination or mistakes in processing could invalidate the results.Introduce a tolerance defense. Regular marijuana users can develop a tolerance and not show obvious signs of impairment, even with THC in their system. I may argue your driving ability was not actually impaired.Challenge the link between THC and impairment. Not everyone reacts the same way to marijuana. I may dispute that the amount of THC in your system proves you were too impaired to drive safely.Point out the lack of driving errors. If your driving before the stop didn’t indicate impairment (weaving, etc), I’d argue you were not that intoxicated.Highlight the time gap. We’d emphasize the disconnect between when you actually smoked versus when you were pulled over. The effects likely wore off.I also dig deep into your medical history and marijuana use. The goal is to show the jury you were an experienced user with a high tolerance who knew how much you could handle before driving. That casts doubt on the prosecution’s impairment argument.
Possible Penalties if Convicted
I think we have a great shot at beating your DUI charge. But if for some reason you are convicted, here are the potential penalties in California:
- Up to 6 months in jail for a first offense misdemeanor DUI
- Fines up to $1000 plus court costs
- License suspension for 6-10 months
- Possible interlock ignition device installed in your car
For a second offense within 10 years or aggravating factors like an accident, penalties go up. You can also be charged with a felony if you injured someone.My goal as your attorney is to avoid all that by beating your case outright or negotiating it down to a lesser offense. But you need to understand what’s at stake.
Takeaways: Can You Drive After Using Marijuana in California?
I know that was a boatload of information! Let me leave you with a few key takeaways:
- It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana in CA, even with a medical card. A card offers limited protections – you can still be arrested and prosecuted.
- Police determine impairment using field sobriety tests and blood tests. Both have limitations when it comes to marijuana.
- Many defenses exist to fight a weed DUI, including challenging the tests, time factors, and lack of driving errors.
- A marijuana DUI conviction can lead to fines, license suspension, jail time and other penalties if convicted.
- You should never drive within several hours of using marijuana or CBD products. If in doubt, don’t drive!
I hope this gives you a better understanding of how DUI laws work in our state. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out! I’m here to help. Drive safely out there.