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Inconsistent laws on marijuana use may be confusing to drivers

On Behalf of | Oct 14, 2015 | Drug Offenses, Drunk Driving |

In Michigan, medical marijuana is legal but recreational use is not. Some people may be confused as to whether or not they can drive after using the drug.

Numerous states across the country have approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes and in some cases allow residents to smoke the drug recreationally. In Michigan, points out the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, the use of medical cannabis is legal but recreational marijuana is not. In fact, authorities in Michigan afford zero tolerance for any kind of THC, the high-inducing chemical in marijuana, in drivers not approved for medical marijuana.

Despite states’ drug laws, DUIs involving marijuana and other illegal substances have been increasing across the country, reports CNN. In 2013, 38 percent of those who were killed in crashes and subsequently tested were positive for drugs that could impair driving. This percentage is reported to be on about the same level as drivers who test positive for alcohol impairment. The most common drug found to be in drivers’ systems is marijuana, at 34.7 percent.

Possible reasons for the increase in high drivers

Why the surge in drivers using marijuana? Authorities think one reason is the drug’s legalization, to varying extents, in some states. People may be confused by new state laws on whether they can actually drive after consuming marijuana, and many claim that pot has no detrimental effect on driving. Some studies suggest that marijuana may dramatically affect a person’s driving ability, tending to result in slower speeds and impaired reaction time. However, other studies contradict these results.

Michigan man cleared of marijuana DUI charges

Is a person with THC in his or her system guilty of impaired driving in Michigan? A 2013 court decision suggest that may not necessarily be the case. According to USA Today, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned an appeals court ruling that found a Grand Traverse County man guilty of a DUI after he was stopped in 2010 for speeding almost 30 miles per hour over the speed limit. He admitted having used medical marijuana, which a blood test confirmed, but it was not determined that he was actually under the influence of the drug at the time he was stopped.

The problem seems to be that while Michigan law allows the use of medical marijuana but prohibits driving under the influence, it is not as clear as to what level of THC in the bloodstream qualifies as impairment. Yet according to the Michigan State Police, people with any amount of a narcotic in their systems are subject to the same penalties that drunk drivers face. For a first offense, these include the following:

  •  A fine of up to $500
  • Jail time of up to 93 days
  • Driver’s license suspension of up to 180 days
  • Community service of up to 360 hours
  • A $1,000 penalty for two years in a row

It may still be some time before the laws in states that allow marijuana use make it easier for drivers to understand what is and is not allowed. It is important to contact an experienced defense attorney after a DUI arrest.