Pennsylvania Relaxes its Marijuana Laws, But Beware the Marijuana DUI Trap
By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney
Marijuana has once again been in the news in Central Pennsylvania, and it appears that Pennsylvania’s very tough laws on marijuana use and possession are beginning to soften. On April 17, 2016, Governor Wolf signed a long-awaited medical marijuana bill, allowing certain forms of marijuana-based medicines to be prescribed by doctors. Additionally, some local cities, including Harrisburg, have begun pushing de-criminalize marijuana on a local level. Though not outright legalizing it, cities are proposing to limit enforcement of marijuana laws to citations similar to noise violations or littering. But, even if laws on marijuana are becoming more lax, there is one area in which the law remains surprisingly tough: driving “under the influence” of marijuana remains a serious criminal offense, and it is possible to commit a DUI by marijuana days, or even weeks, after last using the drug.
Pennsylvania’s DUI law makes it a misdemeanor to operate a motor vehicle at a time when there is any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in the driver’s blood. Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. This means that a driver can be charged with DUI based on the mere presence of marijuana, even if there is no evidence that the person is “high” or actively under the influence. This is where many drivers get a terrible surprise. When a person uses marijuana, it releases several substances into the blood stream. The “active” component (the stuff that causes the high) works its way out of the blood in a very short time, usually less than a few hours. The “metabolites” (the stuff that your body turns the drug into) can stay in the system for days, or even weeks. What this means is that a driver in Pennsylvania who has used marijuana days or weeks prior, and who has their blood tested on suspicion of DUI, may be charged with DUI. If certain amounts of the “metabolite” remain in the driver’s blood, that person will likely be charged with DUI, even if there is no evidence that the person was under the influence at the time.
It is expected that prosecutions for Marijuana DUI will increase in the coming years, and relaxed laws for possession and use mean that more drivers could unknowingly walk into this trap. Even those who use marijuana legally in another state may find themselves facing criminal charges for later driving in Pennsylvania. This is a trap that many fall into, but fortunately, a qualified criminal defense attorney can help.
If you or someone you know is charged, or may be charged with DUI or any drug-related crime, we can help. The laws in this area are extremely complicated, and you should not face this alone. Contact us today for a no charge consultation with an experienced defense attorney.