man pulled over in car by police


Some proponents of legalized marijuana praise states, like California, for making the drug available to people over a certain age for recreational use. While there may be benefits to the legalization of marijuana, much like alcohol, we can’t assume it’s completely harmless.

Alcohol might be legal for people over the age of 21 in the U.S., but it’s addictive. There are health risks of alcohol use, and it can lead to legal trouble. Marijuana has similar risks. 

One issue that many states are dealing with is what happens when people drive under the influence of marijuana.

More specifically, can you get a DUI from marijuana in California even though it’s not an illegal drug? The short answer is that it’s similar to drunk driving, but it’s more complex than that.

People don’t realize that not only marijuana but also prescription medications can lead to a DUI. A DUI for marijuana impairment is a criminal offense with potential legal consequences, including a restricted license and several months in jail. 

Below, we’ll detail what to know about the effects of marijuana in general and how it can affect you if you’re behind the wheel. We’ll also look at driving while high consequences you should be aware of, like a marijuana-related DUI. 

Marijuana’s Legality in California

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in California. There was the legalization of medical marijuana in 1996. In 2016, voters approved Proposition 6, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Legality doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all.

There are regulations even though marijuana isn’t an illicit drug in California. For example, you have to be 21 or older to buy or possess recreational marijuana. This law includes all types of cannabis products, such as edibles. It’s against the law to give or sell marijuana to minors, and it’s also illegal to drive under the influence.

Marijuana laws are similar to prescription drugs. Just because you have a prescription for a medication, you can still get a DUI if it alters your driving ability. 

You can’t smoke, eat or vape cannabis products in public, and you can’t consume it anywhere smoking is illegal, such as in bars.

The Effects of Marijuana

Using marijuana creates immediate and longer-term effects. There’s an ingredient in marijuana, THC, that causes the feeling of being high from cannabis. THC is a psychoactive ingredient. When you use cannabis that contains THC, effects can include:

  • A release of dopamine, leading to feelings of euphoria and a heightened sensory experience
  • THC affects the hippocampus in the brain, leading to memory problems or an inability to form new memories
  • Impairment of judgment. Your information processing is different because of THC, affecting your judgment compared to a sober person
  • Slow reaction time, including problems with balance, motor skills, and coordination
  • These effects are why it’s dangerous to drive after using marijuana
  • Respiratory side effects can occur from smoking marijuana
  • The influence of marijuana may lead to a weaker immune system that leaves you vulnerable to infection


Mustang Car By the Ocean

Drugged Driving

Driving under the influence of any mind-altering drug is one of the main reasons for car accidents. According to the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse, when you use marijuana, it significantly affects motor coordination and reaction time, as we mentioned above. 

There is a direct relationship between the concentration of THC in your blood and impaired driving ability.

Marijuana is the drug most frequently found in the system of drivers in motor vehicle accidents. 

In two studies out of Europe, drivers with THC in their system were around two times as likely to be at fault for a fatal crash than drivers not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Analysis of other studies shows that the risk of being in a motor vehicle crash after you use marijuana can double or more than double.

Under California Vehicle Code, you can be arrested and charged for driving under the influence if you use marijuana. Marijuana impacts your mental abilities to the point that you wouldn’t drive with the same level of caution as someone who didn’t use marijuana.

How Much Marijuana Shows Impairment in California?

Here’s the tricky part about whether or not you can get a DUI from marijuana in California—THC can stay in your system for up to 30 days. You don’t feel the effects after a few hours, but if you were pulled over and drug tested, it could show THC metabolites, even from weeks before. Metabolites are left behind well after the influence of cannabis wears off mentally, leading to a false positive. 

As it stands currently, there isn’t a per se violation for a marijuana DUI in California. That means no level of THC is illegal or a standard presumption for your level of impairment. By contrast, with blood-alcohol levels, typically, anything over a BAC of 0.08% is an impairment. 

If a police officer were to pull you over and they suspect you’ve been using marijuana, they would have to gather further evidence to prove stoned driving. 

Evidence might include an odor of marijuana, how you’re behaving, and how you perform on a field sobriety test. Your driving conduct, statements you make, and the presence of marijuana in your vehicle might also be evidence.

Driving behaviors that show impairment to a law enforcement officer include:

  • Not stopping at a red light or stop sign
  • Swerving
  • Weaving in lanes
  • Driving slowly
  • Being asleep in your car

Drug Recognition Experts or DREs are specially trained law enforcement officers who identify physical symptoms and signs of intoxication. If an officer pulls you over and they have probable cause to think you’re driving while impaired, then they’ll require you to submit blood testing or a breath test.

Of course, for marijuana, a breath test isn’t effective. Primarily used for marijuana are blood tests or urine tests.

If you take a drug test, it can’t show when you last used marijuana. These tests for marijuana aren’t good indicators of how much marijuana you used or blood THC concentrations. We don’t have a consensus on how much marijuana in your system shows you’re impaired like we do if there’s the presence of alcohol in your system. 

That’s when the evidence would become relevant. The process is different from if you were drinking and driving when your blood alcohol content or blood alcohol concentration would be the most relevant factor. 

What Are the Penalties for a Marijuana DUI Conviction?

Suppose you go to court and receive a conviction for driving under the influence of marijuana. In that case, the penalties in California are the same as what would happen if you were guilty of drinking and driving.

In California, penalties for a first-time DUI conviction involving marijuana or another substance can include 96 hours in jail up to six months and a $390-$1,000 fine. You may have a six-month driver’s license suspension, and you could be required to participate in a drug education class.

In most cases, a DUI involving marijuana is a misdemeanor, but certain circumstances can elevate it to a felony. For example, if you’re using marijuana and you cause an accident with serious bodily damage or death or have multiple DUIs, your DUI could become a felony.

A felony DUI conviction can include up to 180 days in jail and a four-year license suspension. You may face probation for up to five years and have to participate in a drug or alcohol education class.

Final Thoughts

To sum it up, can you get a DUI from marijuana in California? 

The answer is yes, you can, and people do. Driving under the influence of any substance, including marijuana, is illegal and has negative consequences. The consequences of driving high are similar to the penalties of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Not only are there legal penalties, but if you use marijuana and drive, there is an accident risk. Fatal accidents often involve the use of substances, including marijuana. 

For chronic marijuana users, it can be a tricky situation. You could have marijuana in your system from weeks prior. If you get pulled over and take a drug test, this will still show up. You likely have to work with a defense attorney to prove your driving abilities weren’t affected if that happens. 

You can recover and still have a very fulfilling life after getting a DUI; the more support you have-the higher your chances for success. If you’re struggling with marijuana or substance use, please know that help is available. Call the helpline at Anchored Tides Recovery today – 866-600-7709.