How Will Police Enforce High Driving with the Legalization of Marijuana?

January 24, 2018

January 1, 2018 marked the first day that recreational marijuana was legal in California. Legalization, however, is not synonymous with zero consequences for using the drug. There is a web of laws that state and federal authorities are working hard to enforce. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is cracking down on drugged driving – including driving under the influence of cannabis – in response to the new law. They are enforcing “high driving” laws using brand-new methods and protocols for traffic stops in the attempt to reduce the frequency of motor vehicle accidents.

What are Marijuana DUI’s?

Currently, the CHP and other law enforcement authorities are treating high driving exactly like drunk driving. The new law that legalized marijuana also made it illegal to eat or smoke any marijuana product while driving. It’s also illegal to do as vehicle passenger. If someone does drive under the influence of marijuana, a DUI conviction is an infraction punishable with a $70 fine. This is a much lesser consequence than those that come with driving under the influence of alcohol, but it’s still enough of a reason to obey the law. A marijuana DUI will appear on your record, just like an alcohol DUI would.

What to Expect at a Marijuana DUI Checkpoint?

To enforce high driving laws, CHP has ramped up their efforts to spot marijuana users on the road. They have established new DUI checkpoints throughout the state with the purpose of detecting drivers under the influence of cannabis. These checkpoints are legal stops under California law; however, you can drive away from a checkpoint as long as you obey traffic laws while doing so. If you break a traffic law trying to avoid a checkpoint, such as making an illegal U-turn, police will have a reason to pull you over.
If you proceed through the checkpoint, you must stop your vehicle if directed by an officer. Police will talk to you while looking for signs that you are high. Signals they will be trying to detect include the smell of marijuana in your car or on your person, red or bloodshot eyes, delayed reactions, and slurred speech. Should the officer suspect that you are driving high, he or she may order a field sobriety test. This is a physical or mental exercise to help police decide whether you are under the influence. You may have to perform tasks such as a one-leg stand or the walk and turn test.
If an officer has probable cause to suspect you of marijuana DUI, the next step is a blood, urine, or mouth swab test. Refusing these tests results in automatic suspension of your driver’s license for one year. The mouth swab test has become more common in recent California checkpoints. The test takes about eight minutes and uses saliva to detect THC. Unfortunately, these tests are not the most accurate when it comes to marijuana DUIs, since cannabis can remain in the saliva and in the system for days or weeks after consumption.

New Cannabis Drug Tests on the Horizon

Expect the realm of driving while high to change even further in the future. Several companies are developing new tests to check for marijuana impairment more accurately. Today the problem is knowing when a driver is actually high, as tests are coming up with positive results for marijuana consumed weeks ago. New technologies like a marijuana breathalyzer to detect THC in someone’s breath are on the horizon, with a few companies aiming to sell to police agencies by the end of the year. The amount of THC in one’s breath increases directly after smoking – in the first few hours when the drug is most likely to impair the individual. A marijuana breathalyzer will be much more accurate than the current blood and urine test methods.
If you were injured in a car accident because of a high or intoxicated driver, contact the experienced San Diego dui accident attorneys at Estey & Bomberger, LLP today for a free consultation! (619) 873-4498