Authorized medical marijuana users have no immunity from a drug DUI

Although Illinois authorizes the medicinal use of marijuana, medicinal users can be convicted of a drug DUI if they drive while impaired by the drug.

Effective January 1, 2014, Illinois began permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes. However, as advised by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, having authorization to use marijuana for medical purposes is not a license for medical users to get behind the wheel and drive while impaired. Medical marijuana users charged with a drug DUI may end up losing their driving privileges and having their medical marijuana cards revoked.

The issue of how to tell if a marijuana user is driving while actually impaired is far from settled in the United States. NBC News reports that, as numerous states relax marijuana laws, Congress recently held a hearing waggishly named "Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Operating While Stoned." Members of a House subcommittee discussed the problem of regulating drivers who hit the road after getting high on marijuana. One congressman noted that there is still no reliable way to determine whether a marijuana user is driving under the influence. Moreover there is no agreement on what amount of marijuana in one's system is enough to say the person is impaired.

According to U.S. News and World Report, there are studies that show that the active psychoactive substance in marijuana, THC, does impair drivers. However, a spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that there is still not enough scientific evidence to know the precise effects of marijuana on drivers. The research to date has not allowed scientists to pinpoint a specific threshold for THC, like the 0.8 limit on blood alcohol content, above which the driver is to be deemed driving while impaired. One problem encountered thus far is that people's responses to pot are much more variable than people's responses to alcohol. In this regard, the National Journal observes that some users can drive competently with high dosages of THC. Astonishingly, one driver who was tested was able to pass a road test with seven times the legal limit of THC in her system.

USA Today reports that many of the commonly used marijuana tests require a blood draw and takes days to produce results. Unfortunately, these tests can only tell whether someone has used marijuana in the past week or two and not whether they are impaired now. A new test creating some buzz in the law enforcement community is a rapid screening system which is supposed to yield results as to impairment in about 10 minutes using a drop of saliva from a supposedly impaired driver. It remains to be seen whether this test will prove reliable.

Field sobriety tests

Illinois law now permits standardized field sobriety tests to be used for determining whether a marijuana user is too impaired to drive a vehicle. According to an article published in the Illinois Bar Journal, medical users of marijuana can typically expect to be given an SFST if suspected of impaired driving. Under the law, the results of an SFST are admissible in any civil or criminal action or proceeding arising out of an arrest for a marijuana related offense. As noted in the Bar Journal, the results of an SFST are intended to be admissible despite the fact that "their efficacy in determining drug impairment is far from clear" and, indeed, "has long been debated."

Seek legal counsel

Whether or not you are a medical user of marijuana, being charged with driving while impaired by marijuana is a serious matter. If you are charged with driving while impaired, you should contact an Illinois attorney experienced in handling drug DUI charges.

Keywords: medical marijuana, Illinois