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Marijuana DUI in Washington, DC

In 2015, Washington, DC legalized the possession of marijuana for personal use. This means that a person can no longer be charged with a crime for possessing less than two ounces of marijuana, as long as he or she is over 21 years of age and there is no evidence that he or she had the intent to distribute that marijuana for monetary gain.

However, the DC legislators specifically addressed the issue of driving under the influence of marijuana. If there is evidence that a person has been driving under the influence of marijuana, he or she may still be charged with a DUI. This means that a person whose ability to drive a vehicle is impaired to any noticeable degree as a result of the consumption of marijuana can still be charged with driving under the influence, even though marijuana itself has been legalized. So, if someone is charged with a DUID in DC, they should absolutely still contact a DC Marijuana DUI lawyer.

Decriminalization of Marijuana

The legalization of the possession of marijuana for personal use does not impact the criminal nature of driving under the influence of marijuana. A person can still be arrested and charged with driving under the influence if there is evidence that the driver was impaired by the consumption of marijuana to any appreciable degree.

Types of Marijuana DUI Charges

The criminal charge associated with driving under the influence of marijuana is the same as the charge associated with driving under the influence of alcohol or any other controlled substance. Driving under the influence of marijuana is considered to be a misdemeanor and the maximum and minimum penalties are the same as those for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The possible penalties a person could face for a first offense of driving under the influence of marijuana is 180 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.00. A person would not face any mandatory minimum amount of jail time as a result of a first offense charge of driving under the influence of marijuana. However, a person who has previously been convicted of driving under the influence in any state faces a maximum of 1 year and a mandatory minimum 10 days in jail, regardless of whether the previous DUI was due to marijuana, alcohol, or another substance, making it important a marijuana DUI attorney in DC is contacted.

Differences Between Marijuana and Alcohol DUI

The evidence that police need to gather in a case in which they suspect a person of driving under the influence of marijuana is often very different from the evidence they would gather for a case where they suspect a person of driving under the influence of alcohol. Most significantly, one of the main pieces of evidence that prosecutors might use in a driving under the influence of alcohol case is the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath or body. In a marijuana DUI case, prosecutors could still use the smell of marijuana on a person’s body or in a person’s breath as evidence.

However, the smell of marijuana on a person’s body or in a person’s breath may not necessarily correlate with recent consumption of marijuana, whereas the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath very likely suggests the recent consumption of alcohol. Also, certain field sobriety tests that may indicate impairment in a DUI alcohol case may not be apparent in a DUI marijuana case.

As an example, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which searches for involuntary vibrations in a person’s eyes, could present clues as a result of alcohol consumption. However, it would not be a useful test when it comes to an allegation of recent consumption of marijuana. Moreover, breath, urine, and blood tests may not be as reliable for DUI marijuana cases as for DUI alcohol cases. While alcohol will only remain in a person’s blood stream for the duration of time that he or she is impaired, marijuana may remain in a person’s blood stream or urine for days or even weeks after the date of marijuana consumption.

This means that there may not be a direct correlation between the presence of THC,—the active ingredient in marijuana—in a person’s blood or urine and his or her level of impairment at the time at which he or she was driving a vehicle, an experienced marijuana DUID attorney can assist in making this distinction.

Elements of Prosecutorial Proof

In DUI marijuana cases, a prosecutor would need to prove that the driver was in physical control of the vehicle and that at the time he or she was impaired to an appreciable degree due to the consumption of marijuana. This would mean that the marijuana was impairing the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle in a noticeable manner as compared to the abilities of a person who had not consumed the substance.

The prosecutors do not necessarily need to prove that there were any actual problems with the driver’s operation of the vehicle; they merely need to prove that the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle was impaired to a noticeable degree.

Importance of a DC DUI Drug Attorney

Marijuana DUIs can be very different from alcohol DUIs. The necessary evidence, indicators of impairment, and manner in which the police obtain evidence against the driver can be different. A DC marijuana DUI attorney needs to be familiar with such essential differences between marijuana DUIs and alcohol DUIs in order to establish a solid defense to help the client fight the charges.

In many situations, marijuana DUIs can be much more difficult for a prosecutor to prove. The causal connection between consumption of marijuana and driving impairment is sometimes weaker than it is for alcohol, and tests to determine impairment were created specifically with alcohol in mind.  It is important for a DUI attorney to be familiar with such difficulties and to know how to establish reasonable doubt in order to be able to secure a positive outcome in a DUI marijuana case.

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