Can You Smoke Weed in Your Car in California?
California was the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 1996. Now, Californians can use and consume cannabis legally without any medicinal need. But smoking weed in your car is heavily regulated and only allowed if the vehicle is parked on private property and no minor is in the vehicle.
Smoking weed while driving in California is illegal and can result in criminal prosecution and heavy fines, license suspensions, probation, and possible incarceration. It is essential for anyone using marijuana in California to understand and stay informed about the laws and regulations surrounding cannabis consumption while driving to avoid negative legal consequences.
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) in California
The penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana or any other legal or illegal drug are the same as those for DUI with alcohol. But determining whether a driver is under the influence of cannabis is not measurable in the same way a breathalyzer measures the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath or bloodstream.
Does that mean the police can’t prosecute you if they can’t prove how much marijuana you have ingested? No. Any amount of marijuana use that affects your ability to drive as safely as someone who is not impaired by cannabis could result in a DUID conviction.
The California DUI statute (VC 23152(f)) provides that,
“It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”
How Much Cannabis Can You Smoke Before Driving?
This question can only be answered by emphasizing the fact that a driver may not be under the influence of marijuana while driving in California. But cannabis can be detected in a person’s body long after the effects of the THC have ended. That’s why testing for the presence of THC metabolites in a suspected DUID driver’s body is not proof that they are under the influence.
THC from cannabis can be detected in a person’s body for the following periods:
- – Blood: three hours to two days or longer
- – Saliva: one to three days
- – Urine: three to seven days
- – Hair: 30 to 90 days or longer
Other Laws Regarding Smoking Weed in Your Car in California
Beyond the law against driving under the influence of weed or other drugs, California also enacted laws to control the environments in which someone can smoke marijuana.
The California Smoke-Free Cars Law – The California Health & Saf. Code § 118948 prohibits anyone from smoking in a motor vehicle in which a person under 18 years old is present. While the law originally addressed tobacco, the law also prohibits smoking “other plant products.” Note, though, that the police may not stop a driver solely for violating this section of the law. A police traffic stop of a motorist must be justified by reasonable suspicion of another law violation.
The California Health & Saf. Code §11362.3 – This section of the Cal. Controlled Substance Act prohibits any driver from smoking cannabis while driving a motor vehicle or operating a boat, aircraft, or other mode of transportation. (§a(7)).
Can You Possess Cannabis in Your Car While Driving?
California law prohibits anyone from operating or riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle with an open package of cannabis or cannabis products. (§The California Health & Saf. Code §11362.3 (a)(4)). The only way in which any cannabis can be transported in a vehicle in California is
- – in a sealed package or container, or
- – in the trunk of the vehicle.
While the fine is only $100, an officer locating an open container of marijuana in a vehicle may intensify their suspicion that the driver is operating the vehicle high.
Getting Charged with Driving Under the Influence of Weed
How do the police and prosecutors convict a California driver of driving under the influence of cannabis?
The state prosecutors must prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:
- – The defendant was driving a motor vehicle that was in motion,
- – while the driver was impaired by a drug or combination of drugs and alcohol that affected the defendant’s physical or mental abilities,
- – to a degree that rendered the driver unable to drive with the caution a sober and ordinary person would drive under the same circumstances.
The law does not require the prosecutor to prove the amount of drugs that impaired the driver, only that the driver was impaired to the point that they could not drive safely.
The police and prosecutors must rely solely on the police officer’s observations, physical evidence (roaches or a bag of weed in the car, etc.), the driver’s own statements, and ideally, a Drug Recognition Expert officer examination and testimony. That’s because they are without a chemical test to prove illegal driving as used in alcohol-impaired DUI cases that show a driver’s BAC readings to be 0.08 or higher.
Police Observations of a Cannabis-Impaired Driver
What kind of “police observation evidence” can the prosecution use to convict a driver of driving under the influence of Cannabis?
First, the police must have reasonable articulable suspicion to stop a driver. That suspicion may be based on the driver’s erratic driving maneuvers, weaving between lanes, failure to use a turn signal, speeding, or even driving too slowly.
After stopping the driver, the officer will look for any unusual behavior by the driver, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, inattention, unresponsive answers to direct questions, physical appearance, or other factors that may reflect the driver’s physical or mental state.
Field Sobriety Tests Are Not Designed for Cannabis
A suspicious officer may administer field sobriety tests to a driver even if they don’t detect alcohol impairment. The “standardized field sobriety tests” are a group of exercises developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after years of scientific experimentation. The tests were designed to identify a lack of physical coordination and mental acuity corresponding to an elevated level of alcohol in the test subject’s blood. The tests do not reliably reflect the effects of cannabis.
However, when an officer believes a driver is impaired, the driver’s performance of field sobriety exercises can inform an officer’s suspicion that a substance other than alcohol could be involved. At that point, the officer can call a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) officer to the scene or in the alternative, arrest the driver and transport them to the police station to be examined by a DRE officer.
Drug Recognition Expert - What Do They Do?
Drug Recognition Experts are officers who receive special training to conduct 12-step examinations of DUI suspects to attempt to determine if they are under the influence of a drug.
The examination includes a breathalyzer test so alcohol can be ruled out as the source of the driver’s apparent impaired behavior.
The 12-step examination also includes Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Vertical Gaze Nystagmus (VGN), and Lack of Convergence (LOC) eye tests. The DRE will check the driver’s pupil dilation and use a light to test pupil reaction to 3 different lighting conditions. They also examine the driver’s pulse and blood pressure. The officer will also question the driver and consult with the arresting officer about their observations during the traffic stop.
With these and other indicators, a DRE will form an opinion about the driver’s impairment being related to cannabis or another drug. Their “expert opinion” is admitted in court as evidence against the defendant to support a DUI-Weed conviction. A blood or urine test can add to the evidence identifying the particular drug the driver ingested, despite the fact that the metabolite remnants may be all that remains to be detected.
Consequences of Smoking Weed in Your Car in California
The penalties in California for a DUI involving cannabis or another drug are the same as those for alcohol intoxication.
Penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana:
Conviction of a misdemeanor offense for a first-time offense
- – Up to six months of imprisonment in county jail
- – A fine of up to $20,000
- – Three to five years of summary informal probation
- – Suspension of your driver’s license for up to six months or longer
- – Enrollment in and completion of a DUI education program
- – Performance of community service
Other potential negative legal consequences include sharply higher insurance costs, experiencing difficulty finding employment, finding housing, and obtaining credit including a mortgage. These problems are compounded by the social stigma of having a DUI conviction in a climate that disapproves of dangerous drivers. You may also have difficulty joining the armed services or keeping a security clearance.
The Law Office of Hart J. Levin Helps DUI Defendants
If you have a California DUI involving cannabis or another drug, the Law Offices of Hart J. Levin can defend your case. The exceptional results Attorney Hart Levin and his associates get for their clients are the product of extensive courtroom experience and a mastery of California DUI law and criminal procedures.
What Can Attorney Hart J. Levin do for you in your California DUI case?
- – Represent you at all court hearings
- – Challenge the legality of the initial traffic stop and your arrest
- – Negotiate with a prosecutor to obtain favorable consideration in light of the circumstances and evidence or lack of evidence in your case,
- – Prevent your driver’s license from getting suspended
- – Defend the claimed level of THC that was in your body at the time of your arrest
- – Gather evidence contradicting the prosecution’s case and the police’s conclusions
Don’t settle for anything but the most experienced and widely respected California DUI Defense Lawyers. Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis requires a knowledgeable and committed defense lawyer.