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Driving while high: ‘If you feel different, you drive different’

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP April 19, 2019

Since marijuana was legalized in Colorado, we’ve learned a lot about driving while high. A surprising number of people seem to be unaware that driving under the influence of marijuana can get you charged with DUI. Some people don’t even think that driving while high is dangerous.

It is dangerous, and it is illegal. Colorado law holds drivers responsible for DUI if they are found operating a vehicle while having five nanograms of THC (the psychoactive chemical in cannabis) in their blood. Unfortunately, THC can remain in the bloodstream for several weeks after using marijuana, even though the impairing effects only last a couple of hours.

That means that you could be charged with DUI in Colorado even though you weren’t actually impaired.

The Colorado Department of Transportation takes a zero-tolerance approach. “You cannot judge your own level of impairment,” its website asserts. “Any amount of marijuana consumption puts you at risk of driving impaired.”

It’s more accurate to say that any amount of marijuana consumption puts you at risk for a DUI or DWAI charge.

What if I use marijuana for medical purposes?

Even if you use cannabis for medical reasons, it’s still illegal to drive while impaired or intoxicated by it. However, it could still be an important factor in your defense, so you should definitely contact a defense attorney if you are arrested for DUI while using medical marijuana.

Watch for anti-drugged driving campaigns

Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its first anti-drugged driving campaign, “Drive High, Get a DUI.” That means that federal grants will likely be issued in order to increase enforcement of drugged driving laws.

“A driver’s judgment and ability to react are both impaired when driving high, but many drivers don’t realize that it’s dangerous and illegal,” said a spokesperson for NHTSA. “Driving either drunk or high is a DUI; impairment is impairment.”

One of the slogans of the campaign is “If you feel different, you drive different.” Here, NHTSA makes a better point than the Colorado Department of Transportation, because people actually are able to judge their degree of impairment, if not to a scientific degree.

The NHTSA campaign is targeted more at those who aren’t sure it’s dangerous to drive while high, rather than people who misjudge their own impairment.

Whatever your situation, an attorney can help

If you have been charged with a drug-related DUI, don’t assume you should plead guilty. The consequences of a guilty plea can be very serious even though the charge is a misdemeanor. Fight your DUI charge by contacting an experienced defense lawyer right away.