Driving under the influence for marijuana is the same offense for driving under the influence of alcohol in DC. Its a serious crime in the District of Columbia. For first offenders, DUI charges carry a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and or a $1,000.00 fine. Having said that, there is no felony DUI charge in DC. That means the offense is a misdemeanor no matter how many times someone gets arrested for it. However, DUI and DWI cases in DC are the only misdemeanors in the entire D.C. Criminal Code that carry mandatory minimum jail sentences for certain aggravating factors.
Mandatory minimum jail sentences require a judge, under the law, to impose jail under certain circumstances. That means the judge could honestly believe the defendant is a saint but, if convicted, under certain circumstances, would have to impose jail. The fact that DUI cases carry potential mandatory minimum sentences, unlike any other misdemeanors in DC, shows how serious the criminal justice system takes DUI charges in DC.
Given the fact that marijuana has been legalized in the District of Columbia, its fair to say its become more socially acceptable and more widely available. As we have previously written about, the District of Columbia City Council first decriminalized then ultimately legalized possession of small amounts of plant marijuana. While marijuana still remains illegal under federal law, this drastic change in local law has made weed much easier to access.
Demand for marijuana has grown and use either increased or at least become more out in the open. Its hard these days to walk around certain parts of the city without getting a whiff of the sticky icky icky. That said, driving under the influence of marijuana (or any other mind-altering drugs, including prescription medications) remains illegal. Law enforcement has had decades to standardized and refine its methods for detecting alcohol related impairments.
There are breathalyzers and standardized field sobriety tests all dedicated to detecting alcohol impairment and measuring how much someone may have had to drink before driving. The same technology and methodology does not exist for DUI marijuana. SFST’s do not give any accurate information about whether someone is under the influence of weed. Breathalyzers only purport to measure alcohol consumption—not drug use.
There are also no generally accepted studies that indicate how much marijuana can interfere with an individual’s ability to drive—or how recent the marijuana was smoked even. In addition, DC police may ask a person they arrested for DUI to take a urine test. It is well-known that marijuana can stay in someone’s urine up to a month or more. That means someone could get arrested for DUI and not smoked any marijuana for weeks, but it would still show up in a urine test. Prosecutors in DC will not listen to the argument that because weed stays in one’s urine for so long, a urine test positive for marijuana is not accurate evidence of whether the defendant was actually under the influence of weed while driving.
Add to all these complications that specific cases in DC have stated that the government can convict someone by alleging someone is under the influence of a drug without even proving are arguing which drug! DC judges also do not ordinarily require the government put on a Drug Recognition Expert to prove their case. That means when pulled over the person is largely at the mercy of the officer’s untrained and unscientific observation, hunches, or suspicions about an individual’s behavior.
Having said all of this, there are certainly some more obvious signs of being under the influence of marijuana. Having a half-smoked joint in the car’s ashtray when pulled over would certainly be solid evidence marijuana impairment. But what about having un-burnt marijuana under the legal amount for possession? These all create complicated issues for enforcing and prosecuting folks for driving under the influence of weed. Unfortunately, DC police and prosecutors tend to error on the side of punishment. They believe deterrence is more important than pesky notions like “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” “science,” and “justice.”
Driving under the influence of marijuana is just as serious as driving under the influence of alcohol. On top of that, its harder to prove and more likely to be falsely accused. If you or a friend or loved one find yourself arrested for DUI marijuana, contact Scrofano Law PC today.
Study: Per Se Drugged Driving Laws Have Little or No Impact on Traffic Deaths, Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, January 14, 2013
Marijuana and Impaired Driving, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia
More Blog Posts:
Are Edible Pop Up Events Legal in DC, Joseph A. Scrofano, No Papered: A Washington DC DUI Lawyer Blog, August 5, 2018
DC DUI and DWI Enforcement: Aggressive, Unreasonable, Joseph A. Scrofano, No Papered: A Washington DC DUI Lawyer Blog, September 22, 2013