Medical Marijuana, Recreational Pot Laws and Driving

Medical Marijuana, Recreational Pot Laws and Driving

With more states moving to legalize marijuana through ballot measures and even more having medicinal marijuana laws on the books, many people may be confused about the legality of driving after using pot.

While all states have laws prohibiting driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, many people who live in states with medicinal marijuana laws think it’s OK to get behind the wheel after using the substance.

But the truth is no state that has legalized recreational marijuana use or medical marijuana permits people to drive under the influence. Just as alcohol is legal but driving drunk or with an open container is not, the same holds true for marijuana in states where it is legal – or at least legal for medicinal use.

Standard of proof

Despite the increasingly legal use of cannabis in many states, police still don’t have the equivalent of a reliable alcohol breathalyzer or blood test – a chemically based way of estimating what the drug is doing in the brain.

Though a blood test exists that can detect some of marijuana’s components, there is no widely accepted, standardized amount in the breath or blood that gives police or courts, or anyone else, a good sense of who is impaired.

Using blood, breath or urine tests to determine whether a person is under the influence of pot is a flawed system, as blood and urine tests are often unable to determine whether marijuana was consumed within the last few hours or days or before.

Also, because of the lack of ability to define “legal limit” with marijuana and guidelines as to what level of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in the bloodstream leads to impairment, most convictions are based on using police observations of “intoxication” and some type of test.

That’s why police will need to show a “substantial” or “significant” effect from the substance ingested. Evidence of impairment usually comes from such observations as:

  • Failing a field sobriety test
  • Slurred speech
  • Unusual behavior
  • Bad driving

For individuals suspected of being under the influence, the next step would be a blood, breath or urine test to determine whether they actually were.

Effect on insurance

Like for drunk driving, your auto insurance rates would likely rise if you were convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana.

Price comparison website Nerdwallet.com in 2018 conducted a survey of all states to gauge how much the annual premium increases on average if someone is convicted of a marijuana DUI.

The lowest average rate increase was in Ohio with $336 per year, and California had the highest average hike of $1,500.

Higher auto insurance rates are just one of the costs drivers face if charged with a marijuana DUI moving violation.

Those convicted of driving high could also have to pay steep legal and court fines, drug-treatment program costs and a driver’s license reinstatement fee, among other penalties. All told, a single DUI could mean thousands of dollars down the drain.