Guide For Navigating Marijuana DUI Charges

Last Modified: January 22, 2024

Marijuana DUI charges are serious. Our top rated attorneys can help you navigate your case. View our guide for defense.

What is Marijuana DUI California?

A marijuana DUI occurs when someone is driving under the influence of marijuana to a degree that it impacts their ability to properly operate the vehicle. When people think of a [DUI][1] in California, they often associate this with an alcohol related offense but it also includes the use of drugs as well.

While testing for alcohol in the system is a fairly straightforward and nearly instantaneous process, testing for [drugs in the system][2] is slightly different. And particularly with marijuana because of the changing rules and attitudes related to use of this substance.

While many drugs are considered to be completely illegal to have in the system while driving, marijuana is one that is allowed to be present in the system so long as the amounts used do not impair driving function.

Given that medical marijuana is much more widespread, people may not be clear about what the laws are in relation to marijuana DUI offenses.

What is Vehicle Code § 23152(f) VC?

California Vehicle Code § 23152(f) VC is the law that encompasses all types of DUI offenses including those related to alcohol and drugs. Under this code it is unlawful for a person to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs, excessive alcohol, and any combination of the two.

While the limits of alcohol, as measured through Blood Alcohol Concentration have been strictly established, and the presence of certain drugs means an automatic DUI, the same is not true of marijuana.

The presence of marijuana in the system is not enough to trigger an automatic arrest. The officer must also establish that the driver has been impacted by the drug enough so that it alters their ability to drive safely.

What are Chemical Tests for Marijuana?

Testing for marijuana in the system requires a blood test to detect THC levels in the defendant’s system (or a urine test for those who cannot have blood drawn.) When an officer suspects a person is driving under the influence (through other physical evidence such as the distinct odor of the drug, impaired motor skills, and other common) they will require a subsequent drug test to be taken and the results of this may not be known immediately but can be used in court should the DUI go to trial.

The tests are not without their flaws. For example, they may alert to the presence of the drug but not necessarily the amount or even the timeframe that it produced behavior altering effects. Someone can show a positive result on their test, but it could have been from substances taken several days prior— long-past the time that the drug would have taken effect.

Can a Driver be Convicted Without a Chemical Test?

Yes, a driver can still be convicted of a marijuana DUI even without a chemical test ever having been taken. A chemical test may provide relevant information to the case but the lack of one does not mean that the driver will go free.

The evidence used for a marijuana DUI charge by the arresting officer will include notes and observations about how the driver was acting, any paraphernalia found, specific odors, etc.

In some cases, if a DUI is suspected due to drugs, an officer may call in drug recognition experts to provide additional insights about the state of the driver.

Can a Driver Refuse to Take a DUI Chemical Test for Marijuana?

Part of the obligation of obtaining a California driver’s license is to agree to be tested for drugs and alcohol upon a DUI arrest. When a driver refuses to take a test, this is will undoubtedly impact on the final punishment that will be handed down and may look like more time in jail or an even longer suspension of said license on top of what the DUI penalty is.

What are the Rules with Medical Marijuana and DUI Offenses?

The fact that you have a prescription for your medical marijuana does not preclude you from getting a DUI. In any case, even with legal drugs, being under the influence of these substances, to a degree that alters overall coordination and thinking, is considered illegal.

Is a Marijuana DUI a Felony?

A marijuana DUI is typically NOT charged as a felony. As with alcohol related DUI offenses, the first few are usually charged as misdemeanors, so long as the incident in question does not include excessive speeds, or the injury or death of another person. Aggravating circumstances such as those just listed may result in a more serious felony change.

What are the Penalties for a Marijuana DUI in California?

A first-time marijuana DUI in California will trigger a number of different penalties. They will be the same as those who are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and may include all or a combination of:

  • 3 to 5 years of informal probation
  • Suspension of the person’s driver’s license for up to 6 months; this may also include a restricted license that will allow the person to drive only to and from work
  • Fines of up to $1500
  • Attendance of a mandatory DUI course for a period of three months
  • Installation of an IID or ignition interlock device which measures your blood alcohol level prior to operating a vehicle
  • Up to 6 months of jail time
  • A requirement to perform community service

There are a number of ways to defend against a marijuana DUI charge. One of them is to show that the evidence that was collected, or even the initial stop, performed by the officer was unlawful in some manner.

Procedurally, if the officer did not follow all of the rules required of him or her, then the evidence obtained may be deemed ineligible to be used in court.

Another way that a marijuana DUI might be fought is to question the chemical drug test that was taken with the testimony of an expert. They can provide information, based on their extensive knowledge of the limitations of these test, that show how the results may be misleading.

The presence of marijuana can still be detected in the system of a person for many days after the drug’s effects on physical and cognitive function have already passed.

Call Us Today to Speak with an Experienced Marijuana DUI Lawyer in Los Angeles

Having a seasoned lawyer by your side is one of the most important things you can do if you are arrested and charged with a marijuana DUI. Daniel Perlman and Matthew Cohen are experienced Los Angeles Marijuana DUI Attorneys who understand the ins and outs of the legal system and can make sure you get the best outcome possible for your case.

To schedule a consultation with a DUI attorney, call 1 (310) 557-1700 and we will connect you with our legal professionals.

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