As more people use marijuana in the COVID-era it’s important to remember that legal pot still results in DUI if you drive high.
In 2018 it became legal to buy and sell cannabis in the State of California. But changes to the law brought up questions and concerns about safety, particularly about legal marijuana and DUIs. Driving under the influence of marijuana is as much an issue as an alcohol-related DUI because marijuana use can impair judgment, too.
“If you’re going to be taking part in using cannabis, do it responsibly,” said Sergeant Oscar Chavez of the California Highway Patrol’s Impaired Driving Section. “Don’t Drive.”
Before Legalization: Prepping for Legal Marijuana and DUI Training
During 2017, police officers prepared for the legalization of marijuana with 52 hours of training. The training program, called Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE), taught police to detect people driving under the influence of cannabis. ARIDE includes a two-day course in recognizing the signs of sleep deprivation, drug use, and alcohol use.
Unlike alcohol, there’s no breath test for marijuana use. But technologies are evolving, and could soon include mouth swab tests. However, when marijuana was first legalized, blood tests for finding cannabis in a driver’s bloodstream were the best bet.
Chavez said that the training program brings in medical experts to teach police officers about all forms of impaired driving, from sleep deprivation to prescription drugs like Xanax and Vicodin.
Cannabis Use and Car Drivers: Many Variables can Complicate Matters
Alcohol enters the human system through drinking, but weed intake happens in a variety of ways. People can smoke it, eat it, and even rub it on their skin. Differing strains, THC levels, and even the individuality of the drivers can impact the information a police officer has to work with.
“With cannabis, we have to take into consideration the user,” Chavez said. “Are they a long time user, short time user? We have to take into consideration how they ingest it. Is it edible? Are they using a sativa strain? Are they using an Indica strain? Sativa’s going to have some effects on a user, versus an Indica strain, or a hybrid strain, a combiniation of both.”
What Happens Behind the Wheel: Legal Marijuana and DUI Arrests
Chavez said when a DUI suspect is pulled over, officers determine whether an arrest is necessary. If the driver is arrested, officers use a Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) to figure out what’s causing the impairment. The DRE is a process that uses standard roadside impairment tests, as well as in-depth tests.
The in-depth tests check problems such as pupil size, pulse rate, and blood pressure. The DRE can help rule out alcohol use and zero in on the possibility of driving under the influence of pot or other drugs.
How Much Pot is Legal?
It’s legal to purchase 28.5 grams of green, leafy marijuana. This purchase size is about the size of a filled sandwich bag.
Buyers have to be 21 or older to purchase marijuana. However, if they’re caught with more than the legal amount, they’re only given an infraction charge, rather than a misdemeanor or felony charge. Infractions only include fines and citations.
Chavez said the important thing to remember is that the laws and the DUI training for officers are there to keep people safe. Marijuana use is up to the user, but users shouldn’t drive while under the influence.
“Just do it safely,” Chavez said. “Don’t get behind the wheel.”