California Lawmakers Lay Off Marijuana DUI – For Now

California state lawmakers will be mulling a myriad of issues related to marijuana in the coming months. In all, there are approximately 20 bills that address the drug in some form or another. driving3.jpg

Those measures were all filed before the deadline for the introduction of new laws in February. They include a new attempt at tighter regulations of the current medical marijuana industry, restrictions on how synthetic marijuana is branded and packaged and the quantity of marijuana that authorities can destroy following a raid.

But for the first time in three legislative sessions, what is not up for consideration is a measure that would impose criminal penalties for motorists with marijuana in their system. The bill had been flatly shot down twice before, and it seems this session, lawmakers decided to spend their energy elsewhere.

This is a good thing because, as our Los Angeles marijuana DUI lawyers are well aware, laws aimed at cracking down on stoned drivers will inevitably have the effect of penalizing motorists who are in fact sober.

This does not mean it is legal to drive while impaired by marijuana. Under current law, driving while impaired – by any substance – is against the law. It is up to law enforcement to the determine whether a driver is impaired. With alcohol, there is circumstantial evidence that comes into play, but usually, it’s a breathalyzer or blood-alcohol tests that definitively proves the officer’s suspicions. A BAC of 0.08 or higher is deemed intoxicated.

Successful defenses in these cases have involved arguing the driver was not high or that, even if he or she had consumed marijuana, it was not to a degree it was an impairment.

However, lawmakers have tried for years to impose a similar set limit on the amount of cannabinoids a driver could have in their system before being deemed too high to drive.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with wanting to keep the roads safer. But marijuana impairment cannot be tested the same way as alcohol impairment. They are two different substances, they have different effects on the body and they are processed differently. Alcohol is processed through the body rapidly, which means a high blood-alcohol content indicates a high level of intoxication. Not so with marijuana, which can remain in one’s system for days or even weeks. For someone who is a medical marijuana patient, it is entirely possible to test positive for high levels of THC, and yet not be impaired.

So what swayed lawmakers to finally take a step back?

For one thing, a new, large study indicated there was no link between the increase in marijuana use (as attributed to a growing number of states legalizing the drug for medicinal and recreational use) and an increase of traffic fatalities. In fact, in California, while marijuana use increased exponentially between 1999 and 2012, the number of fatal accidents fell from 3,150 in 1999 to 2,630 in 2012.

Of those who died in car accidents, more than 400 had marijuana in their systems in 2012. That is a significant increase from the number of crash victims who had the drug in their systems in 1999: 105. However, this is misleading because, again, marijuana in the system does not indicate the driver was impaired. It just means more people are using the drug.

One proposal would have imposed a THC-blood limit of 2 nanograms per milligram. That is a level that would persist in a regular user for up to six days after the last use. This prompted many advocates to call the measure a “Sober DUI” law.

Thankfully, that measure failed.

Although at least one legislator promised to re-introduce a marijuana DUI bill in California this year, that did not happen.

There is still a chance such language could be added into one of the pending marijuana regulation bills, but the chances of that are unclear.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
California Lawmakers Give Up On Marijuana DUIs — For Now, March 12, 2015, By Chris Roberts, San Francisco Weekly
More Blog Entries:
Marijuana Dispensary Owners File Lawsuit Against Police for Raid, Feb. 25, 2015, Marijuana DUI Defense Lawyer Blog