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Decriminalizing Recreational Marijuana Will Not Decriminalize Related DUIs

Florida inched closer towards legalizing recreational marijuana usage in early February after proponents submitted enough petition signatures to trigger a state supreme court review of a proposed constitutional amendment. If the high court approves the amendment’s language and backers can secure another 600,000 signatures, Florida voters could adopt the measure in 2024. To pass, 60% of voters would need to approve the amendment, but it first needs to pass muster with the high court, which rejected two similar legalization amendments proposed in 2021.

Whatever the eventual outcome of this ballot initiative, DUI defense lawyer Zachary Ward of Tallahassee’s Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law reminds you that driving under the influence of marijuana is a criminal offense that subjects you to the same penalties upon conviction as an alcohol-related DUI. While almost 800,000 Floridians can now legally consume marijuana under the state’s 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, driving under its influence remains a criminal DUI offense.

Florida Lawmakers Concerned About Marijuana-Impaired Drivers

If Florida voters ultimately legalize recreational marijuana usage, lawmakers will undoubtedly maintain its status as an impaired substance under DUI law. When medical marijuana became legal in 2016, lawmakers required the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to initiate an educational campaign warning the public about the dangers of marijuana-impaired driving. Noting that drug-impaired drivers caused 440 fatal motor vehicle accidents in 2016, the Drive Baked, Get Busted campaign emphasizes that driving under the influence of marijuana is always illegal. According to a statewide survey conducted two years after the campaign began, almost 25% of Floridians still did not know that driving under the influence of marijuana was a DUI offense.

Marijuana-Impaired Driving Under Florida Law

Marijuana-impaired driving as a DUI is covered under Section 316.193 of the Florida Statutes–“Driving under the influence; penalties”—which defines a DUI offense as anyone “under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance set forth in s. 877.111, or any substance controlled under chapter 893, when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.”

Unlike alcohol, there are no specific impairment limits with a marijuana-based DUI. To gain a conviction, police need to prove that you had consumed marijuana, which impacted your ability to drive safely. The subjective nature of proving a marijuana DUI in court makes it far more challenging for the prosecution than proving an alcohol-related DUI. For this reason, you should always consult a skilled Florida DUI defense lawyer if you have been arrested for a marijuana DUI.

Consequences of a Marijuana DUI Conviction

Whether based on alcohol or marijuana, potential penalties for a first-time DUI conviction include:

  • $500 to $1,000 fine.
  • Up to six months imprisonment
  • Up to one year of probation.
  • Fifty hours of community service.
  • Psychological evaluation and completion of a substance abuse treatment or education course.
  • Driver’s license suspension for six months up to a year.
  • 10-day vehicle impoundment.

While the legal consequences are bad enough, a conviction will also put a dent in your bank account beyond the monetary fine. Assorted fees—court, probation, psychological evaluation, substance abuse program, license reinstatement, insurance reinstatement—typically cost more than $2,000, while enhanced insurance premiums can cost thousands per year over several years, depending upon your vehicle.

Your Florida Marijuana DUI Defense

If Florida police suspect you of driving while impaired, they will request that you take a roadside breath test or perform field sobriety tests. While you are not legally required to submit to these requests, the police can arrest you for a DUI and then ask you to submit to a breathalyzer if they suspect alcohol impairment, or a urine or blood test if they suspect marijuana (or other drug) impairment. Under Florida’s implied consent law, refusing to submit to such testing can lead to similar penalties as a DUI, including a one-year driver’s license suspension.

If a urine or blood test provides the prosecution with evidence that you consumed marijuana, without a specific legal limit, the evidence remains subjective. THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, can stay in a user’s bloodstream for weeks. This allows your defense lawyer to argue that police cannot definitively prove you were impaired by marijuana when arrested. Naturally, the police might present evidence that they smelled marijuana or that you showed signs of being stoned by having bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or other indicators. However, establishing proof for conviction remains a subjective exercise that a skilled defense lawyer can effectively challenge.

Turn to Cowhey + Ward for Your Marijuana DUI Defense

If you or a loved one faces marijuana DUI charges in Leon County, consult with the DUI lawyers at Cowhey + Ward. You must act quickly because your driver’s license will be automatically suspended if you do not request a DMV license suspension hearing within 10 days of your arrest. We can help you retain your license or get a conditional permit during this administrative procedure and then develop a strategy to defend against the marijuana DUI. To help you secure the most favorable outcome for your marijuana DUI, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.

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