Pot May Be Legal Behind Your Front Door, But Not Behind The Wheel
Just as alcohol is legal in Colorado but driving drunk is not, the fact that cannabis is legal in the state doesn’t change the fact that you can get a DUI for driving high. DUI stands for “driving under the influence,” and that influence can be alcohol, pot, or any other drug that can impair your ability to operate a vehicle.
As Colorado Springs DUI attorneys, we answer DUI FAQs daily. Many people mistakenly believe driving while high is not as bad as driving while drinking. An arrest and conviction for driving with marijuana in your system can lead to the same penalties and consequences you’d face for drunk driving.
But what makes cannabis and driving even more of a legal risk is that you can be convicted of DUI even if you weren’t high at the time of your arrest.
The Same Laws Apply to Drunk Driving and Driving While High
Colorado does not have separate laws for drunk driving and driving high. The same two offenses – DUI (driving under the influence) and DWAI (driving while ability impaired) –apply to both substances. Both offenses are typically misdemeanor charges unless prior convictions or other circumstances, such as injuring or killing a person, result in the prosecutors upgrading the charge to a felony.
You can face a DUI for driving high if you have consumed enough cannabis that you are largely incapable, either physically or mentally (or both), to “exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.”
Related: What Are the Typical Punishments For A First-Time DUI In Colorado?
You Can Get a Marijuana DUI Even If You’re NOT High
But while alcohol and cannabis can both form the basis of DUI charges, the nature of how the two intoxicants work in the body creates a critical distinction in terms of DUI.
Unlike alcohol, where the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream declines roughly parallel to the level of intoxication, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active compound in cannabis, stays in the bloodstream long after its psychoactive effects have dissipated.
But the language of the law means that just having pot in your bloodstream can get you charged with DUI for driving high in Colorado, even if you don’t feel the slightest bit impaired, even if you haven’t smoked or ingested pot for days.
Colorado law dictates that drivers who are found to have five nanograms of active THC in their whole blood can face conviction for a DUI. If the police pull you over for suspicion of driving under the influence and you have more than the legal amount of THC in your system, even if you are not impaired, you could face a DUI for driving high.
Regular cannabis users, in particular, stand a good chance of having an amount of THC in their bloodstream over the legal limit long after their last hit.
Making matters worse is that if a blood test concludes that the amount of THC in your bloodstream is 5ng/ml or higher, “such fact gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence.” (CRS 42-4-1301(6)(a)(IV)) The inference that you were impaired puts you at an immediate disadvantage in defending yourself against DUI charges.
Colorado Springs Police are Trained to Detect High Drivers
Colorado Springs police officers receive specialized training to detect impairment caused by pot and other drugs. You can certainly help them do so if you or your vehicle smells of marijuana or you have visible paraphernalia or open containers of marijuana in your vehicle (both of which are illegal to have in the passenger compartment).
As with blood and breath tests given when an officer suspects a driver of being impaired by alcohol, police will ask a driver suspected of being impaired by marijuana to submit to a blood test to detect the presence and amount of THC in the driver’s bloodstream. Refusal to submit to such a test will result in an automatic driver’s license suspension, and prosecutors can use the refusal as evidence against the driver in their case.
Are You Facing a DUI For Driving High?
If Colorado Springs police pull you over because they suspect you are driving under the influence of marijuana and you subsequently face a DUI for driving high, you have rights.
You have defenses available for reducing the DUI charges against you, including challenging the legality of your traffic stop, the constitutionality of your arrest, the validity of the test results, and the admissibility of other evidence that forms the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case against you.
Of course, raising these defenses is easier when you hire DUI lawyers in Colorado Springs who specialize in marijuana charges.
At James Newby Law Colorado Springs, our experienced attorneys use the experience and insight gained as former DUI prosecutors on behalf of individuals facing marijuana-related DUI charges. It all starts with your free, confidential initial DUI consultation.
If you are facing a DUI for driving high, put our experience to work for you.