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Marijuana Is Allowed In My State -- Are There Still Legal Consequences?

With states like Washington and Colorado legalizing marijuana, you may not think twice about when or where you use your cannabis. But believe it or not, you can be arrested for driving under the influence--whether that's for recreational or medicinal use. You'll want to educate yourself on the changing legal issues and how people are cited so you can take preventative measures. 

Why does weed fall under DUI laws?

Some people may roll their eyes at DUI laws since marijuana is considered to be a "gateway drug" and not a hard drug like heroin or cocaine. And with football player Le'Veon Bell being suspended from games last year, some news articles may actually see legal penalization as extremely harsh and bizarre. So why does marijuana fall under DUI laws? Well, studies have shown that marijuana can do the following:

  • decrease peripheral vision
  • slow decision-making processes
  • decrease the ability to multi-task

And if marijuana is combined with alcohol or other substances, these effects can increase. 

If studies have shown that marijuana can influence behavior, why are legal issues still up in the air?

The main issue right now is how to apply these DUI laws since police are confronted by so many new variables. For example, habitual smokers may have more Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)--the chemical responsible for psychological effects--in their system, but it may not affect their judgement as much as new smoker since they've developed a tolerance. So this variable can make it hard to set a legal limit (known as per se laws), like the .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) for drinking. However, 5 states do have per se laws for THC, so if you live in one of those states, you will have a clearer idea of what is allowed since you may have to take a urine test if you are pulled over or arrested.

But since some states don't have per se laws, another variable can come into play: THC can stay in your system for a long time. In fact, the Huffington Post says cannabis metabolites can sit in your fat cells for as long as three months. So if you need to use marijuana regularly for medicinal purposes, this might seem incredibly unfair since your THC levels may be raised, but you wouldn't be under the influence. The silver lining is that these aren't always open-and-shut cases. In some states, like Colorado, "permissive inference" provisions have passed that can protect the driver. These laws allow the accused to show that despite higher THC levels, they weren't impaired. Also, if you haven't already, you may want to talk with your doctor about getting a medical marijuana card. If you have your medical card with you when you are pulled over, it may look better and explain higher THC levels while you aren't under the influence. To get a card, you need to have an eligible condition--like multiple sclerosis--show proof of residency, and have a doctor help you with the necessary documents.

What penalties could you face if you aren't able to prove or use permissive inference?

Depending on the state you live, you could face a whole slew of consequences, such as fines, probation, license suspension, community service, and even jail time (usually a year or less). Keep in mind that the most severe penalties are usually reserved for repeat DUI offenders and those who cause serious property damage or bodily harm. If you are caught without a valid license or you are driving with a suspended license, that also doesn't bode well. The best way to avoid these penalties is to use your marijuana in moderation (learn about the legal limits in your state if any apply) and don't drive after getting high. If you have any questions about current laws, talk with an attorney in your area for more information. For more information, consider websites like