Yes. If you are pulled over and have a medical marijuana card, that card does not prevent the police from charging you with driving under the influence.
If the police have probable cause to stop you on suspicion of DUI, they can require a blood test. Any person who drives in Pennsylvania implicitly consents to chemical tests to determine the presence of a controlled substance if required by the police.
These circumstances can and have landed drivers with medical marijuana cards in hot water. Marijuana metabolites remain in your blood for days after use. In these circumstances, the police can charge you with DUI because of the existence of metabolites in your blood. This causes what we will call a “metabolite DUI.”
What is a Metabolite DUI?
In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to “drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle” when “[t]here is in the individual’s blood any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance . . . or metabolite of a substance[.]” 75 Pa. C.S. § 3802(d). That means that the mere presence of a metabolite in your blood is enough to convict you of DUI.
What is a Metabolite?
Our bodies can break down alcohol quickly, but they can’t easily break down the active ingredients in drugs. The byproducts of drugs can be found in your blood even after drug use is stopped. Those byproducts are call metabolites.
With marijuana, metabolites can appear in a person’s blood weeks after use (the marijuana may have been used days prior to a driver getting behind the wheel). So, even though a person using medicinal marijuana is driving, he or she might not be “high” or impaired.
In Pennsylvania, the Police Do Not Need Proof of Impairment.
The DUI law, as it stands, does not require the police to prove that you were impaired. One state senator is trying to change that, but the bill has not passed and the same bill died in committee last year.
Permission for use of medicinal cannabis under the Medical Marijuana Act is not a defense. In fact, authorized use—or even prescription use—of any substance is not a defense to DUI.
That doesn’t mean that the game is over once the police file charges. Our attorneys can help you navigate medical marijuana law as it pertains to DUI.
How Would a Police Officer Determine Marijuana Impairment?
Law enforcement determines if someone is impaired through basic protocols, drug recognition experts, sobriety tests, and chemical tests. If they believe you are driving under the influence, they will require that you submit to a chemical test to determine the amount of THC per milliliter of blood, or the presence of any metabolites. In those circumstances, you do not have the right to consult with a lawyer before taking the test, and your driver’s license could be suspended from 1 year up to 18 months if you refuse to take the chemical test to determine drugs present.
What Is the Penalty for a First-Time DUI?
A first-time DUI charge in Pennsylvania could mean up to 6 months in jail, a $5,000 fine, and a yearlong license suspension if convicted. You will also be required to attend highway safety school and take a court-reporting-network evaluation.
If you have marijuana in the car and don’t have a medical marijuana card, you could face criminal charges for possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana, too.