Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States, yet testing for it in a driving under the influence (DUI) situation is challenging for law enforcement. No industry standards currently exist for measuring marijuana intoxication levels.
While recreational marijuana is not legal in Florida, medical marijuana use according to specific guidelines is legal. If you have been charged with DUI in Florida based upon suspected marijuana use, regardless of whether it was legally prescribed or illegally obtained, speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Contact Khonsari Law Group in St. Petersburg today at (727) 269-5300 or online to schedule a free consultation and learn if we may be able to help you.
The Difference Between Alcohol and Drug DUI Tests
Under Florida law, a driver may face DUI charges if they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher. When an officer makes a stop for suspicion of DUI, they typically conduct a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST). The SFST is actually a series of physical tests that measure balance, ability to focus and follow instructions, and other skills necessary for driving.
Should an officer determine a driver has failed SFST, they may use other tests for BAC, such as a breathalyzer, blood test, and/or urine test. The procedures and standards for testing for alcohol in DUI cases are straightforward, while testing a driver suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana is far less well defined.
An officer may smell marijuana odor on the driver as they interact with them, or see open evidence of drugs in the car. However, actual proof of drug use, of any type, requires a blood test or urine test, and while these tests can detect marijuana, they do not pinpoint when use occurred. In fact, traces of the active ingredients of marijuana can remain in the human body for as long as 75 days.
As more states legalize marijuana, different standards for marijuana DUI are being developed. Under Colorado law, a state that permits recreational and medical marijuana use, a person is “intoxicated” if they test higher than 5 nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per milliliter of blood. Other states that allow medical marijuana use only, including Rhode Island, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, deem DUI for a driver with any THC level. For now, Florida does not have any standards for measuring THC levels in drivers charged with marijuana DUI.
Understanding the Role of THC
Blood and urine tests for marijuana measure traces of THC, a chemical compound in marijuana plants. THC is responsible for most of the psychological effects of marijuana use. Smoking marijuana may give users hallucinations, or feelings ranging from elation to relaxation to anxiety.
How THC enters the body affects how long it stays in the system. For example, edible marijuana may be active for six to eight hours, while inhaling marijuana may have an effect for as short a time as 45 minutes to a few hours.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, marijuana affects users’ reaction time, distorts perception, and impairs the ability to make decisions. Unfortunately, all of these faculties are necessary to safely operate a vehicle.
Medical Marijuana Use
Florida law allows for low-THC marijuana use for medical purposes. In order to qualify, a patient must:
- Be a permanent or seasonal Florida resident;
- Be diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition; and
- Obtain a Medical Marijuana Use Registry Identification Card.
The following conditions qualify patients, with physician approval, for medical marijuana use in Florida:
- Crohn’s disease;
- Parkinson’s disease;
- Multiple sclerosis (MS);
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); or
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs include warnings against driving while using the medication. The same warnings apply for medical marijuana. Just because a driver has a valid Medical Marijuana Registry Identification Card and a legal reason for using marijuana does not mean they can or should operate a vehicle.
How a DUI Conviction Can Affect Your Life
Depending on the charges and penalties, a DUI conviction has the potential to seriously damage an offender’s career, finances, and personal life. Additionally, Florida law allows for penalties including but not limited to:
- Driver’s license suspension; and
- Community service.
If you have a professional license, or need a driver’s license for your employment, your career and income may be at risk if you receive a DUI conviction. Furthermore, your reputation and standing in your community may be harmed, and the resulting stress and embarrassment may seriously impact your quality of life.
It is important to know you are not alone. Get an experienced advocate who will work hard to protect your rights and your future.
About Khonsari Law Group
While medical marijuana use is legal in Florida, recreational marijuana use is not. A marijuana DUI is serious, but being charged with DUI does not have to mean a DUI conviction. If there is time to prepare a good defense, then there is hope for minimizing the potential negative consequences of the charges. That means time is of the essence, so don’t delay in contacting Khonsari Law Group as soon as possible.
The laws regarding medical marijuana use and DUI are not clear cut. As a former DUI prosecutor, attorney Rohom Khonsari has extensive experience in dealing with DUI cases and he knows how to overcome the common strategies of the prosecution.
The legal team at Khonsari Law Group in St. Petersburg is committed to diligently serving all of our clients, and getting the best possible outcome for every case. We take pride in representing Floridians in the St. Petersburg area and throughout the state. We also understand that criminal charges are inherently stressful, and bring great uncertainty into a person’s life. Regardless of the charges you are facing, contact Khonsari Law Group today at (727) 269-5300 or online to schedule a free consultation and learn if we may be able to help you.