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DRIVING HIGH: WHAT HAPPENS IF I GET A MARIJUANA DWI/DUI?

The Summary Law Firm Feb. 23, 2022

Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, but operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana—or any substance—is unsafe and can bring with it serious consequences in Missouri. Even though marijuana isn’t legal recreationally in the state, many people are still allowed to possess and use it medicinally. Regardless of whether you’re using it legally or illegally, everyone deserves to know what their rights are concerning its use and what happens if they run afoul of the law. Everyone deserves strong legal representation at each stage of the legal process. If you’ve been arrested for a marijuana DUI and need an experienced attorney to assist you, reach out to me at the Summary Law Firm in St. Louis, Missouri.

MARIJUANA DWI IN MISSOURI

Medical marijuana use has been legal in Missouri since 2018, although its recreational use is still not legal. If you hold a valid marijuana patient ID card, you can possess and use marijuana in a limited capacity—but like alcohol, that doesn’t mean there won’t be penalties for misusing it. Driving while impaired on drugs or alcohol is still illegal, even if the substance you’ve used is legal.

In the state of Missouri, if you get pulled over under suspicion of driving high, you run the risk of being charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), or sometimes called a DUID—driving under the influence of drugs. Though the names are different, the penalties are the same whether you’re found to be impaired by alcohol or marijuana. However, when you’re pulled over, the process will be slightly different if the officer suspects marijuana use. Since there is no reliable roadside chemical test for marijuana like there is for alcohol, an officer must rely solely on their observations. First, the officer will look for signs of impairment such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of marijuana smoke. They will also ask you questions to see how you respond and to get a sense of what you were doing before you got in your car. They may also ask you to perform field sobriety tests such as standing on one leg or walking in a straight line. If you’re arrested, you may be asked to take a blood or urine test.

POSSIBLE PENALTIES

If you’re convicted of a DWI, your penalties will depend on the specifics of your case and whether you have any prior DWI convictions. Penalties are the same for alcohol as they are for marijuana. A first and second offense are both classified as misdemeanors and include jail time of up to one year (with a ten-day mandatory jail sentence or thirty days of community service for a second offense), community service or completion of a substance abuse traffic offender program, fines, and a suspension of your license from 30 days to five years.

Subsequent convictions may be tried as felonies and the penalties are more severe. A third offense could bring with it jail time of thirty days to four years, community service, fines of up to $5,000, and license revocation for up to ten years. Because these sentencing guidelines have a range of consequences, a judge is allowed to decide if they’ll impose the minimum or the maximum penalties.

LEGAL DEFENSES FOR DWID

Since there’s no law stating the legal limits of THC you can have in your system, it’s more difficult for an officer or the prosecution to prove you were too impaired to be driving. There are tests available that measure the amount of THC (the psychoactive element in marijuana), but this can stay in your system for weeks, so it’s not a valid indication of your impairment while you were driving.

Because the assessments officers utilize are so inconsistent, you can use this in your favor when mounting your defense. Missouri, like many states, makes use of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) that are trained to detect impairment from drugs. If one was not present at your arrest, you may be able to argue that the arresting officer wasn’t able to accurately assess your level of impairment. 

HOW A KNOWLEDGEABLE ATTORNEY CAN HELP YOU 

Being pulled over for driving high can feel overwhelming. The best thing you can do for yourself if you’re facing a DWI for marijuana is to hire a local criminal defense attorney who understands state law as well as the local court system. I served as a public defender before opening my own practice and can use that experience working in the criminal defense field to help you. If you’re looking for someone who will listen to your side and work tirelessly to defend your rights, call me today to set up an appointment. My office is in St. Louis, Missouri, but I can help clients throughout the area, including. St. Charles, St. Louis County, St. Clair County (Illinois), and Madison County (Illinois).