Is it Illegal to Drive After Smoking Weed?
Published on Sep 21, 2021
You’re likely reading this article because you’re looking to answer one or more questions about smoking weed and driving. Is it illegal to smoke and drive? Is it safe to drive high? Does weed affect driving? What happens if you get caught driving high? As cannabis becomes more accessible with increasing legalization, it only makes sense that more people will be asking these very important questions. Unfortunately, yes, it is very unsafe to smoke and drive. It is very illegal and very dangerous to drive while under the influence of weed, and the consequences can be severe.
Cannabis Legalization in the United States
Since Washington and Colorado first legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, there have been renewed legalization efforts across the US with promising results. As of June 2021, there are 18 states with legal recreational weed and 35 states with legalized medical marijuana. Connecticut, New Mexico and Virginia are the latest to legalize recreational weed (passing legislation in 2021), and all signs point to cannabis regulation continuing to open up throughout the United States. Rhode Island is also likely to pass pro-recreational weed legislation within the next year.
Even more affirming are the newest poll numbers from Pew Research, showing that 91% of Americans approve of legalizing recreational weed (60% believe both recreational and medical should be legal and another 30% believe only medical should be allowed). Between this record-breaking nationwide support and momentum growing from a decade of successful legalization efforts, it seems that it’s only a matter of time before marijuana is fully available in more states than not. Of course, with easier widespread access comes the responsibility of practicing safe marijuana use and sharing accurate information about critical things like driving while stoned.
How Cannabis Impairs Driving
First and foremost, it’s important to answer the question “Can you drive high safely” with a resounding no. Not only is it illegal, but driving stoned is incredibly dangerous. While the effects of marijuana are different than alcohol, like alcohol, marijuana alters your motor functions and reduces your capacity to safely operate a vehicle. Marijuana contains a psychoactive chemical compound called THC, which means that it affects the mind (it is important to note, here, that driving after consuming CBD is not dangerous or illegal, since it is not psychoactive). Smoking marijuana will likely result in:
- delayed reactions to stimuli
- altered perceptions of things such as time and reason
- reduced capacity to think clearly.
The more you smoke, the more intense these effects will likely be (too much weed can result in a very unwanted experience). Depending on what you’re doing, these effects may be the desired result. Marijuana is used to boost creativity, reduce stress and anxiety, and help with a myriad of medical concerns such as insomnia and ADHD. However, when used while behind the wheel, the side effects of marijuana can be devastating, which is why the law strictly forbids the influence of weed while driving.
The Laws & Legal Consequences of Driving While High on Weed
It is a criminal offense to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis, no matter what state you’re in. If you are caught driving while clearly impaired, you will face criminal prosecution and the threat of a DUI or worse. While states do not yet have a uniform approach to identifying and charging “drugged driving” offenses, there are several key similarities in every state. Let’s take a look at Nevada and Maryland as examples.
A person can be charged a DUI in Nevada on a per se basis, meaning the act is innately illegal and can be charged without any extrinsic proof. Therefore, if an individual is pulled over and tested to have more than 2 ng/ml of Delta-9-THC or 5 ng/ml of 11-hydroxy-THC in their blood, they will be charged a DUI via per se ruling. If an individual does not submit a drug test after it is requested, it will be assumed that they were driving while under the influence of a controlled substance. The first offense can result in up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Subsequent offenses are charged with increasing severity, thereafter.
A person who is under the influence of a drug to have it affect their ability to drive safely can be found guilty of a DUI. Unless a person has been in an accident resulting in life-threatening injuries, they can refuse to take a drug test at the expense of having their license suspended for 45 days. If found guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana in a manner that is deemed unsafe, the first offense could result in up to one year of jail time and a $1,000 fine. The repercussions increase with each subsequent charge, thereafter.
Other States & Drugged Driving Laws
Because there is currently no way to tell if THC in the system is due to immediate use, it is often left up to the law’s discretion to decide how far to push a cannabis-related DUI. In the end, it normally comes down to taking a standard drug test and comparing the results to the police officer’s report of the driving violation. If charged a DUI, in most states you can assume jail time, community service, a sizable fine, and/or controlled substance abuse classes will be issued. Since many states fall back on per se regulations, many police departments are working to improve THC-testing methods, including the creation of breathalyzers. While there haven’t been many breakthroughs in the last few years, we’re hopeful that something will be created to standardize the process and provide a clearer understanding of what is and is not acceptable under the law for smoking and driving.
As more people begin to appreciate marijuana and use it both medically and recreationally, we must have discussions about cannabis safety. Let us know your thoughts on this important topic and comment below!