People often think a DUI is alcohol-related, but in reality, you can also be charged with a DUI for driving under the influence of marijuana. While there is no reliable roadside test for marijuana intoxication, there are other ways that a police officer may ascertain the necessary probable cause to arrest you.
You must contact a Pennsylvania DUI lawyer immediately if you have been charged with a marijuana DUI. The legal defense team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC, can evaluate your situation and help you develop a strong defense. Call us at (412) 281-2146 or contact us online for an initial case consultation.
PA Law & DUIs Involving Marijuana
Under Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code Section 3802(d)(1)(i), it is illegal to drive, operate, or exercise physical control over the movement of a vehicle if there is any amount of marijuana or a metabolite of marijuana in your blood system.
This applies to any Schedule I controlled substance, a category to which marijuana belongs. Marijuana and the active metabolite THC can remain in your system for up to 30 days.
What Are “Per Se” Marijuana Laws?
A “per se” marijuana DUI means you meet the minimum amount of controlled substance metabolite to be charged with driving while intoxicated. Per se is a legal term that indicates that the facts are proof intrinsically.
What Is the Minimum Threshold for a Marijuana DUI?
According to Pennsylvania Bulletin, Volume 34, Issue 7, the minimum threshold for a per se marijuana DUI is one nanogram of THC per milliliter of blood (1 ng/ml).
According to California NORML and Quest Diagnostics, a person may have a blood test result of 50 ng/ml for up to two days after smoking marijuana.
Use of strong edibles or high-dose pills equivalent to a dose of 20 mg of THC can result in a test of 50 ng/ml up to six days after dosing.
What Does the Prosecutor Have to Prove?
Most people do not exhibit signs of intoxication at such low levels of THC. However, the prosecutor does not have to prove that you were driving high or intoxicated.
They must prove that you were driving, operating, or exercising physical control over the vehicle’s movement with the minimum threshold level of THC in your system.
How Much THC Is Required to be Charged with a Marijuana DUI?
While a per se marijuana DUI requires a showing of at least 1 ng/ml of THC, you may be charged with a marijuana DUI without a positive test result. You may be found guilty of a DUI if the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your ability to drive a vehicle safely was impaired and:
- You were under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs, including marijuana
- You were under the influence of a combination of alcohol and drugs, including marijuana
When evaluating whether your ability to drive was impaired, the investigating detective, police officers, and Drug Recognition Experts will look for certain factors, including:
- Erratic driving, including swerving, weaving, or driving too slow or fast
- Occurrence of a car accident
- Odor of marijuana on your person or in your vehicle
- Bloodshot or glassy eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Admission of smoking or ingesting marijuana
- Discovering marijuana during a valid DUI traffic stop
- Lack of physical coordination
- Confused mental state
- Behavioral traits consistent with marijuana use
- Eye examinations, including the Lack of Convergence Test
- Performance on Field Sobriety Tests
- Increased blood pressure and pulse
- Appearance of a greenish tongue
Many of these indicators of impairment have no scientific basis or are faulty tests and can be discredited by an experienced marijuana DUI lawyer.
How Does Marijuana Affect Your Ability to Drive?
When you ingest marijuana, the active ingredient THC is absorbed into your bloodstream and makes its way to your brain. According to the National Institutes of Health, it connects to receptor cells that give you pleasant feelings but also affect you in other ways that can inhibit your ability to drive safely.
Marijuana causes impaired thinking and interferes with a person’s ability to perform complex tasks, such as driving. It disrupts the functioning of the basal ganglia and cerebellum. These areas of the brain regulate balance, coordination, posture, and reaction time.
Because the THC in marijuana can make it unsafe to drive, all states have made it illegal to drive while under the influence of the drug. If you do have symptoms of marijuana use, a police officer may have reasonable cause to pull you over.
If they determine probable cause to arrest you, you will likely be charged with a marijuana DUI.
What Are the Penalties for a Marijuana DUI in PA?
In Pennsylvania, the penalties for a marijuana DUI are the same as driving under the influence of alcohol. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has published guidelines for potential penalties for driving while under the influence of a controlled substance.
For a first-time marijuana DUI, you will face up to six months of incarceration, have your driver’s license suspended for one year, and pay a fine of up to $5,000. You must also complete driving highway safety school and go to an alcohol and drug treatment program. You may be sentenced to community service as well.
Second, third, and subsequent offenses have increased penalties. For example, for a second marijuana DUI, you will face up to five years in prison, an 18-month license suspension, and up to a $10,000 fine.
Can You Refuse a Blood Test?
You can refuse a blood test, but it will not likely benefit you. You will face a license suspension of 12 or 18 months, depending on if you have been convicted of any prior DUI or chemical test refusal.
While you may prevent the prosecutor from pursuing a per se marijuana DUI, they can still charge you with the violation based on proof of impairment.
What If You Have a Medical Marijuana Card?
No exception is built into the Pennsylvania Marijuana DUI law for medical marijuana patients. If you have more than 1 ng/ml of THC or other cannabis metabolites in your system, you can be convicted of a controlled substance DUI.
What Defenses are Available to Marijuana DUI Charges?
If you are charged with a marijuana DUI, your criminal defense attorney can create strategic defenses to attack all aspects of the prosecution’s case. Some common defenses we use include:
- The initial traffic stop was invalid
- The results of the field sobriety test were unreliable
- You did not have the requisite amount of THC in your blood
- The chemical testing was inaccurate
- There was an illegal search and seizure that produced evidence against you
- You did not ingest THC on the day that you were driving
Call a Pittsburgh Marijuana DUI Law Firm for Help
If you or a loved one was arrested, you must immediately reach out to a reliable attorney. No matter what, you have rights. Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC has a legal team ready to protect you and develop a strong defense.