Are You More Likely to Get Arrested for a Marijuana Related DUI
Increase of DUIs for Marijuana Use and Impact of Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania
Despite the fact that Pennsylvania has relaxed its laws concerning marijuana, driving under the influence of marijuana remains a very serious criminal offense. In 2016, Governor Wolf signed a medical marijuana bill which allowed marijuana-based medicines to be prescribed by doctors. Further, some cities in the state, including Hattiesburg, have been pushing the decriminalization of marijuana on a local level.
While not legalizing the use of marijuana, some Pennsylvania cities are limiting enforcement of the drug to citations, similar to littering or noise violation tickets. The laws associated with driving under the influence of marijuana, however, have not become less serious in any way. Because marijuana levels are not measured in the same way alcohol is, it is possible to be charged with a DUI by marijuana days, or even weeks after last using the drug.
Under Pennsylvania’s DUI laws, it is a misdemeanor to operate a motor vehicle any time there is any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in the driver’s blood—and marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance. This means that even if there is absolutely no evidence that the driver is actively under the influence of marijuana, or high, he or she can still be charged with DUI based on the presence of marijuana in the blood.
If you are facing DUI charges in Pennsylvania because of medical marijuana, we can help. Our team of attorneys have the experience, passion, and consideration to protect your future and your freedom during this difficult legal process. Contact us today at (610) 692-8700 or (877) 529-2422. Our Chester County office is located at 304 North High Street, West Chester PA and our Lancaster Office is located at 313 West Liberty Place, Lancaster PA 17603.
What About Medical Marijuana?
Even those who use marijuana legally in another state could find themselves facing criminal marijuana DUI charges in Pennsylvania. Those in the state who have a medical marijuana card, allowing them to legally be prescribed and use the drug for chronic pain, cancer, anxiety disorders, or other medical issues, could also find themselves under arrest for marijuana DUI.
A medical marijuana ID in the state of Pennsylvania is not a free pass to drive under the influence, even if your marijuana was legally purchased at a medical cannabis dispensary in the state. As of October 2018, more than 80,000 patients in the state of Pennsylvania were registered for the medical marijuana program, the numbers jumping by 33 percent from August 2018 to October 2018. The state of Pennsylvania has 35 medical marijuana dispensaries in operation, with seventeen more set to open.
The legalization of medical marijuana in the state has caused some anxiety among law enforcement agencies over the fine line, which determines when it’s legal to drive and when it’s not. There have been marijuana DUI arrests made for those with a medical marijuana card who were found—via field sobriety and blood testing—to be too impaired to be driving safely.
Even with a medical marijuana card, you are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of a substance which impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle. This is true in the case of other prescription drugs as well. Even if you are legally prescribed a drug, if that drug impairs your ability to operate a vehicle safely, you cannot drive while taking the drug.
There is no “threshold” for marijuana use like there is with alcohol. As an example, you can drink a beer or a glass of wine, and so long as your blood alcohol concentration does not exceed the legal limit of 0.08 percent, you are still legally allowed to drive a vehicle. Yet you could be charged with a DUI if even trace amounts of a controlled substance are found in your blood, or if marijuana is detected—even though you might not have used marijuana for weeks prior. So, assuming you ingested marijuana a week ago, you would certainly not be too impaired to drive, yet the drug would show up in your blood test.
At one time, the vast majority of DUIs in the state were either for alcohol alone or for a combination of alcohol and drugs. A blood or breath test would show the person was over the legal limit of 0.08 percent, and a DUI arrest would be made. Since 2016, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling banned warrantless blood tests, DUI appeals have steadily risen. It is expected that medical marijuana will also be the focus of legal challenges to Pennsylvania DUI laws. Although there is legislation in the works to “tweak” the DUI laws in the state so that medical marijuana cardholders would not be technically breaking the law every time they drive, enactment of that legislation is likely down the road. Such legislation would make it clear that simply having THC in your blood is, in and of itself, not a DUI violation.
Current DUI Marijuana Laws in Pennsylvania
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that marijuana is the most prevalent controlled substance detected among drug-impaired drivers, victims of motor vehicle crashes, and those who are fatally injured in an automobile accident. This is likely because marijuana stays in your system so much longer than other drugs, such as opiates or amphetamines. Being convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana or other drugs subjects you to the same criminal penalties as the highest level of DUI under Pennsylvania law. The penalties include—among other things—a driver’s license suspension for up to a year, time in jail, and fines up to $5,000. Initially, the threshold for THC concentration or its metabolites was set at five nanograms per milliliter. In 2011, the minimum concentration was lowered to one ng/ml. In cases where the concentration in the blood is not this high, the state is required to show actual impairment.
Complexities Associated with a Pennsylvania Marijuana DUI Case
Defending a Pennsylvania marijuana DUI case is different than defending a “typical” DUI case, involving only alcohol. As noted, marijuana can stay in your blood for weeks after use, therefore, a marijuana DUI arrest could occur when you were absolutely not driving under the influence of marijuana. While roadside cannabis-specific breath testing is in the works, the devices are not currently in use.
Are Drivers Under the Influence of Marijuana Impaired?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently did a study which concluded that alcohol-impaired drivers were more likely to exceed the speed limit, take risks while driving and weave in and out of traffic. Those under the influence of marijuana, however, drove slower, “weaved” only within their own lane, and followed other drivers at greater distances. In the state of Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal for years, officers typically rely on field sobriety tests to make drug-related DUI arrests, with blood and chemical tests for drugs generally being “after-the-fact.”
Colorado law enforcement is trained in both standard field sobriety tests and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement. Additionally, the state patrol has more than 50 drug recognition experts. Denver PD noted that only 3.3 percent of DUI arrests in the city were related to marijuana. Across the United States, some law enforcement agencies have gotten grants to find new ways to measure impairment. One of those is a phone app which can attract reaction times and eye-hand coordination, although it could be years before the technology is widely available.
Being able to have more accurate information regarding marijuana impairment could lead to gradated punishments such as the increased penalties for those who drive with higher BAC levels, or those who have multiple DUIs within a specific period of time. Per se DUI laws judge drivers with a certain amount of marijuana in their system to be under the influence. Pennsylvania has per se DUI laws for marijuana, meaning the prosecutor is not required to show your driving was actually impaired, taking the following into consideration:
- Cannabinoid levels in the state of Pennsylvania must only be shown to be present in your bloodstream at the time of your arrest.
- The two-step drug testing process is used in the state, where the lab identifies the drug, then runs more complex procedures to substantiate the actual concentration of THC in the bloodstream.
- While ethanol, the intoxicating compound in alcohol, is water soluble (meaning it is expelled rather quickly from your system), but the cannabinoids in THC bind with fatty cells in your body, causing them to remain in your bloodstream long after the intoxicating effects are gone.
If you refuse a chemical test to determine the presence of drugs or alcohol in your system, your driver’s license will automatically be suspended for a period of one year to 18 months, depending on the level of drugs or alcohol and whether this is a second, third, fourth, or subsequent DUI.
Our Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Are There When You Need Us
At Ciccarelli Law Offices, our Pennsylvania DUI attorneys are here to help you following your DUI marijuana charges. We understand you are facing many serious penalties, especially when arrested for marijuana use. We work tirelessly for our clients every step of the way, to protect your future and your freedom.
We have successfully defended citizens throughout Pennsylvania who have been arrested and accused of DUI. We have tried cases in the Chester County courts as well as in Exton, Kennett Square, Coatesville, Malvern, Chesterbrook, Phoenixville, Oxford, Honey Brook, Parkesburg, West Chester, Chester Springs, Chadds Ford, Landenberg, Paoli, and Philadelphia.