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What States are Cracking Down on “Drug DUIs”?

Although marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, it’s permitted for recreational purposes in 10 states already, and more than half of the states in the union have legalized cannabis for medical use. One of the big questions this presents for states is how to handle people who drive, not while drunk, but while experiencing the effects of marijuana or other drugs.

All of the states that have legalized the non-medicinal use of cannabis are taking drug DUIs extra seriously, whether or not cannabis is the drug in question. With increased access to cannabis, more and more drivers are using the drug and then driving, which has naturally led to an increase in concern. However, it is possible to be arrested for driving under the influence of drugs anywhere in the United States. The particular consequences and the way that they assess your impairment differs from state to state.

And what if you’re using other drugs? Can a prescription painkiller or cough medicine use get you a DUI? While potentially unlikely, it is indeed possible for these drugs to relate in criminal charges. On the other hand, a police officer is probably only going to investigate and find out about the cough syrup in your system if they thought you were driving erratically and suspected potential drug use.   

Which Drugs Count and How do They Know You’re Impaired?

Which drugs can get you a drug-related DUI in California or any other state? The short answer is that pretty much any drug could qualify to get you a criminal charge. If you are using any substance that significantly impacts your brain, muscles or nervous system, the state you’re in will likely be able to build a legal argument against you for impairment. Results vary, however, and while for some drugs like marijuana, narcotics or heavy painkillers a conviction may be likely, drug-related DUIs involving other drugs might be fought more effectively.

For most drugs, the police don’t have a simple test for determining your level of impairment like what they use for alcohol. If you’re involved in an accident or they see other evidence of impaired driving, they may require a blood or urine test to check for drugs, and anything they find may be used as the grounds for a DUI charge. In states with implied consent laws, you are legally required to submit to these tests, while in others you may be able to refuse at least the blood and urine test.

New breathalyzer technologies are being developed specifically for evaluating if an individual is under the influence of cannabis, but right now the blood test is the primary means for checking THC levels. A few states have modeled DUIs for marijuana on the laws around alcohol and have mandated a minimum amount of THC that a person must have in their blood to be charged. Most states simply depend on the arresting officer assessing that your driving is impaired, and a few states will charge you with a DUI if you are found with any level of THC in your blood at all. Check your state’s laws to see their specific penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis.