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MARIJUANA ADDICTION AND DRIVING IN CALIFORNIA

 

Alcohol addiction afflicts many individuals and no doubt, is one of the main factors in many DUIs. But what about marijuana? Is marijuana also addictive? Now that recreational marijuana is legal in California, will we start seeing an increasing number of multiple driving under the influence of marijuana offenders and an increasing number of crashes caused by marijuana-influenced drivers?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), a person with “marijuana use disorder” uses marijuana frequently and often experiences withdrawal symptoms if he or she stops using the drug. This disorder, according to NIH, afflicts approximately 30 percent of those who are marijuana users. Some individuals with Marijuana Use Disorder cannot stop using the drug; these individuals become addicted to marijuana. The NIH reports that approximately 9 percent of marijuana users will become addicted. In 2015, approximately 40 million people in the United States have marijuana use disorder. Extrapolating from that number, there are approximately 432,000 individuals addicted to marijuana in California. (This is a rough estimate.) Of course, this number pales in comparison to the estimates of the number of alcoholics in California— approximately 5 million—but now that the use of recreational marijuana is legal, it is reasonable to suspect that more Californians will find themselves addicted to the drug?

We have no doubt that alcohol impairs a person’s ability to drive safely, but there are conflicting studies regarding the effects of marijuana use on driving ability.  However, the potency of marijuana has been steadily strengthening over the years, foreboding the possibility of not only more addicts but increasingly dangerous effects on the ability of a high driver to drive safely.

The effects of marijuana vary based on a number of factors, including how it is consumed, the strain of the product, and the users own bodily constitution.  Furthermore, marijuana can produce a different effect from person to person. While many people feel relaxed by the drug—perhaps explaining the driving study resultsthat showed some high drivers were more cautious drivers—for others it creates anxiety, even panic, and other unpleasant feelings. Statistical studies put driving under the influence of marijuana at elevated risk for vehicle crashes, even fatal crashes. (Two European studies found that a driver under the influence of marijuana is twice as likely to cause a fatal crash as compared to a driver who has no drugs or alcohol in his or her system.)

Despite what marijuana advocates argue, the objective view is that marijuana use and driving shouldn’t mix. And that brings us back to our question.  Will we see increasing numbers of multiple offenders for driving under the influence of marijuana? Many would argue that marijuana addicts were addicted before the drug became legal, but I believe that now that it is legal, more people will use it due to easy access and a certain percentage of those will become addicted. That will lead to more dangerous drivers on the road and more multiple offenders.

It is never advisable to get behind the wheel while under the influence of any drug, but addicts, like alcoholics, often cannot mediate between their drug usage and driving. There are many resources for conquering addiction but the addict must want to change. Sometimes that desire is thrust upon them, such as when they are arrested for driving under the influence, or even worse, such as cause a crash.

An arrest for driving under the influence of marijuana is often easier to defend than a driving under the influence of alcohol charge because marijuana can stay in a person’s system long after the effects have worn off. It may be difficult for the prosecution to prove that the driver was still under the influence of marijuana. But if the arresting officer testifies that the driver was not driving safely, with specific objective facts to back that up (and especially if the driver caused a crash), that defense becomes weaker.  If a driver is convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana, the consequences are approximately the same as for a DUI except there is no DMV Administrative Per Se Hearing(as of now, but that could change if California enacts a THC per se statute).  While no driver wants a DUI conviction, a driver who is addicted to marijuana or has marijuana use disorder may in fact benefit from the penalties as the court may order the offender to attend a program to treat the addiction.

Orange County DUI defense attorney, William Weinberg, has been defending DUI drivers for 25 years. If you have been arrested for DUI, he offers a free consultation to discuss your options. Every case is unique and he looks for your unique defense. You may contact him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinber.com.