Approximately 20 states and jurisdictions have legalized marijuana for adult use, and another 13 states have passed versions of decriminalization provisions. In a state where cannabis is legal, like New Jersey, people can purchase, possess, and personally use small amounts of marijuana.
In contrast, states with decriminalization statutes have chosen to reduce prosecution of marijuana possession without truly legalizing its use.
However, every state in the country prohibits operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Drugged driving can lead to an arrest, or worse, an accident.
What is Drugged Driving?
When a person drives after ingesting an intoxicating substance, they are operating a vehicle under the influence of a drug. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and even prescription drugs can alter a person’s ability to drive a car and might lead to a traffic stop or an accident.
While most people associate charges of “driving under the influence (DUI)” with alcohol, drivers can be arrested for using marijuana before getting behind the wheel. For alcohol, law enforcement might ask an allegedly drunk driver to bow into a machine to test their blood alcohol levels.
However, for suspected cannabis use, officers seek to test and measure the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a person’s blood.
While legal in some states across the county, marijuana impacts reaction times and delays cognitive functions imperative to driving. Notably, drugged driving includes the inability to operate a vehicle due to marijuana use and the use of prescription drugs.
Importantly, it does not matter if you are using a doctor-recommended dosage of prescription drugs or not. If you threaten public safety on the roadways after ingesting the drug, you could be arrested for driving under the influence.
Can You Be Arrested for Driving While High?
Yes, in any state in the country, you can be arrested for driving while high. However, the process to determine your ability to drive varies according to state regulations. For instance, more than thirty states have laws that are “effects-based,” meaning that officers and the court can consider video footage, officer testimony, the expert testimony of a drug recognition expert, or results of a blood test.
While most recognize the “effects-based” measure as the best option for determining if a driver is impaired, seventeen states have taken a harsher path - zero tolerance, which criminalizes any, even the slightest, use of a drug before driving.
Even the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety does not believe zero-tolerance laws are best. Indeed, the foundation performed research and discovered that “there is no concentration of [THC] that allows us to reliably predict that someone is impaired behind the wheel in the way that we can with alcohol.”
What about in states like New Jersey that have legalized cannabis?
Yes, if you are driving under the influence of marijuana in a state that has legalized its use, you can still be arrested and prosecuted.
Legalization states treat marijuana almost precisely like alcohol. It is regulated, sold, and can be used - you can also be charged for driving under the influence if you abuse a substance then get behind the wheel of a car.
Cannabis legalization is not a defense to drugged driving. The potential charge of driving under the influence is separate from the status of cannabis legalization. Regardless of what state you are in, it is illegal to drive after ingesting an intoxicating amount of drugs, including marijuana.
What Criminal or Civil Liability Applies to Drugged Drivers?
Primarily, if you are arrested for alleged drugged driving, you could face severe criminal penalties like a substantial fine, potential jail time, higher insurance rates, and driver’s license revocation.
Additionally, if you are in an accident and injure someone else due to drugged driving, you may face criminal and civil charges. Passengers, pedestrians, or other drivers can file lawsuits for compensation against a drugged driver if an injury or death occurs.
At its core, drugged driving is a negligent action, and most state laws provide some relief to folks who are hurt because of someone else’s irresponsibility. Indeed, negligence is at the core of civil law and is the basis of most lawsuits filed between individuals.
No matter your position, if you have been injured in a car accident because of a drugged driver, contacting an attorney to help navigate the civil legal system is an important step forward. Filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit can be a difficult decision, but understanding the full scope of your rights is essential.
Brandon J. Broderick, Drugged Driving Accident Attorneys
Drugged drivers should be held fully accountable for the accidents and the severe types of injuries they cause. At the firm of Brandon J. Broderick, Attorney at Law, our legal team takes pride in our mission to fight to protect the rights of those who have been injured through negligence or reckless disregard for human life. We will consult with you in-depth to determine the most effective strategy for pursuing compensation. You deserve the support of an experienced advocate, and we will fight to recover substantial compensation for you. We can help. Get in touch now.