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The Law Offices of Paul S. Geller, P.C

In California, a person can be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) if they’re impaired due to marijuana, a prescribed drug, illegal drug, or alcohol. The tricky scenario is with the current legalization of marijuana. The determination that someone is truly under the influence of marijuana becomes problematic from a prosecutorial standpoint. Nonetheless, the punishments are exactly the same when compared to someone who was driving under the influence of alcohol. If a person is driving to the point that they are impaired, and a police officer makes that determination, they can be arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana. The next chain in the process is when someone is being prosecuted in court.

Of course, it has to be proven in court that the driver was truly driving under the influence of marijuana at the time that they were driving. The punishment can result in a driver’s license suspension, jail, fines, probation classes, and educational classes regarding drug treatment or driving under the influence. The punishment goes up if the circumstances of the arrest are more egregious, such as if there was an accident or someone was injured, if the person arrested has prior convictions, aggravating circumstances, etc.

How Has Legalization Of Marijuana In California Impacted DUI Laws?

In California, legalizing marijuana increased the potential of people accused of driving under the influence simply the increase in use of recreational or therapeutic use of marijuana.  From a prosecution and law enforcement standpoint, marijuana often seemed to go a bit unnoticed or overlooked by some law enforcement officers. In part, that’s due to plea bargaining and the actuality that driving under the influence of marijuana is very difficult to prove. For instance, sometimes people would have marijuana in their vehicles and it’d simply be dismissed by law enforcement. If it was a small amount, it resulted in a minor ticket or fine. The legalization of marijuana on a larger scale for personal use certainly raises the question of whether people in public are driving under the influence of marijuana because they’re using it more often.

The proof to show whether someone is impaired from marijuana raises a lot of questions. The same mechanisms that are used for measuring someone’s alcohol level is not available for measuring active THC in a person’s system. Law enforcement officers don’t have that information readily available. Given that marijuana is now legal for personal use gives way to the greater potential for abuse and people driving under the influence of marijuana. However, the ability to take the next step and actually prove unlawful impairment or make an arrest is still as problematic.  Prior to legalization, getting caught with marijuana resulted in a prosecution in the form of a ticket. If someone had marijuana in a vehicle prior to legalization, it was unlawful and could lead to more serious charges pending a further search of the person or the vehicle.  That is no longer the case, as mere possession now is lawful.

Does Law Enforcement Undergo Additional Training To Investigate Marijuana DUIs?

Law enforcement officers undergo additional training courses and certifications in order to prosecute and make arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana. However, those things were in place before as well. When law enforcement officers go through training for driving under the influence cases, they train for detection and testing to determine whether someone is under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs.  There are additional tests that can be done once a person is arrested, or even in the field, if the person complies with the testing. But typically, the additional testing that’s done by a drug recognition expert (“DRE”) to determine whether a person is under the influence of prescription medication or illegal narcotics is done in a different setting and conducted once the person is already under arrest.  Very few patrol officers are actually DREs, or “drug recognition experts”.

Testing for prescription drugs or illegal narcotics is usually done at the station, and it involves a twelve-step process. Testing at the station is much more detailed than what a patrol officer would do in the field. When law enforcement officers make arrests for DUIs, they can look at obvious factors to determine whether a person is under the influence.  As mentioned, that training is not necessarily anything new.

Law enforcement officers should, however, recertify or take additional courses, educate themselves through learning about studies, and the like more often. Given the legalization of marijuana and the determination to be made by a law enforcement officer whether the ingestion of marijuana, like alcohol, is actually causing impairment in driving,  officers should be required to have additional training and recertification – but they are not.  Often, that leads to unlawful arrests and inappropriate filing of criminal charges that can have devastating effects.

For more information on DUI Law Relating To Marijuana In California, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (626) 714-3112 today.

Paul S. Geller

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(626) 714-3112

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