Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational and medical use of marijuana – but that doesn’t mean you can drive high in any of them.
Our nation’s last round of elections obviously had a massive impact on the U.S., including the somewhat incongruous election of conservative politicians, and the broadening of marijuana legalization laws. The net effect, for better or worse, is that it is now above board to buy pot in eight states (it’s legal to have it for recreation in D.C., too, but good luck trying to purchase it).
Attitudes about consuming weed, it seems, are changing pretty quickly. But the generally accepted wisdom of driving anything from a horse-drawn carriage, to a Ski-Doo, to the family minivan, while baked remains consistent: don’t do it.
The very descriptive lawmakers in the Great State of Maine might have some of the nuance wrong, but the fact remains that getting high doesn’t put one in the most alert state for driving a two-ton car.
So it’s interesting to see how different states are dealing with the issue of potentially high drivers, often in very different ways. Some places have very specific requirements about the amount of THC in one’s bloodstream, while many others rely completely on the judgement of trained law enforcement. And, if you’re busted, the penalties you might face change wildly from state to state; fines range from a few hundred bucks to tens of thousands, and jail time from hours to decades.
The State of Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services has a webpage, and digital DUI Fact Sheet. Here we see Alaska is the only state to include snowmobiles in its driving prohibition.
Using marijuana while driving anything is illegal. This being Alaska, snowmobiles even get a shoutout: “You cannot use marijuana while operating any motorized vehicle, including cars, snowmachines, boats, ATVs, airplanes – basically anything with a motor. You can also get a DUI while operating any aircraft or watercraft, whether motorized or not.”
Two critical facts are made clear at several points: “Driving high is a DUI,” and “law enforcement decides whether or not an individual is driving impaired.”
- First offense: 72 hours jail time; $1,500 fine; license suspended for 90 days and ignition interlock device (IID)
- Second offense: 20 days in jail; $3,000 fine; license suspended for a minimum of one year and an IID
- Third offense: 60 - 120 days in jail; $4,000 - $10,000 fine; license suspended for a minimum of three years, and an IID
California has no blood testing standard. It is unlawful for anyone under the influence of a drug to drive a vehicle, and for anyone “addicted to the use of any drug” to drive a vehicle (with provisions made for participants of approved narcotic treatment programs).
- Minimum fine of $390. Fines and fees typically add up to nearly $1,000
- Three to five years of probation
- Driver’s license suspension of at least six months
- Maximum of one year in county jail
- At least three months of drug education classes
Colorado law enforcement officers are trained as drug recognition experts (DRE). DRE “have the ability to detect physical signs of drug impairment” and also use chemical tests.
Colorado law specifies a limit of five nanograms of THC in a suspect’s “whole blood” can be prosecuted for a DUI.
- First offense: up to 180 days in jail; up to $500 fine; no license suspension; no ignition interlock device (IID)
- Second offense: up to one year in jail; up to $1,500 fine; one year license suspension; IID required
- Third offense: up to one year in jail; up to $1,000 fine; two years license suspensions; IID required
The Maine.gov website has a very detailed description of the effects of marijuana that we don’t completely buy into:
“It produces a dreamy state of mind and creates the illusion that your senses are sharper than ever. While it's true that your attention becomes focused, you actually become preoccupied with unusual thoughts or visions, not the road. That ‘spaced out’ feeling alters your sense of time and space, making it difficult to make quick decisions, judge distances and speed, and causes slow, disconnected thoughts, poor memory and paranoia. Even hours after the effect is gone, this inability to deal with the unexpected lingers.”
- First convictions: $500 - $600 fine; 48 - 96 hours in jail; 90-day minimum license suspension
- Second convictions within a ten-year period: $700 - $900 fine; 7 - 12 days in jail; suspension of license and right to register a vehicle for a minimum of three years
- Third convictions within a ten-year period: minimum $1,100 - $1,400 fine; minimum 30 - 40 days in jail; suspension of license and right to register a vehicle for a minimum of six years
- Fourth and subsequent convictions within a ten-year period: minimum $2,100 - $2,500 fine; minimum six months to six months and 20 days in jail; must use an ignition interlock device when driving any vehicle for four years after the suspension period has ended
Unlike most other states with legalized marijuana, drivers in Massachusetts are not required to submit to a chemical test if suspected of driving under the influence of drugs (though they are if suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol). Any chemical sample can only be obtained on a voluntary basis.
- First offense: maximum 30 months house arrest; fine of $500 - $5,000; license suspension of between 45 days to one year
- Second offense: incarceration between 60 days and 30 months; fine of $600 - $10,000; license suspension of two years
- Third offense: felony; incarceration between 180 days and five years; fine of $1,000 - $15,000; license suspension for eight years
- Fourth offense: felony; incarceration between two to five years; fine of $1,500 - $25,000; license suspension for ten years
- Fifth offense: felony; incarceration between 30 months and five years; fine of $2,000 - $50,000; loss of license for life
Like most other “recreational” states, Nevada gives law enforcement officers power to decide if a driver is impaired. The state also utilizes officers trained in drug recognition evaluation.
Nevada specifically prohibits driving with a 10 nanograms of THC per milliliter of urine, or 2 nanograms per milliliter of blood.
- First offense: two days to six months in jail, or 20 - 96 hours of community service; Nevada DUI school; fine of $400 - $1,000 plus court costs; Nevada Victim Impact Panel; license suspension of 90 days; penalties may be as much as doubled for violations within a work zone
- Second offense: 10 days to six months in jail, or house arrest; fine of $750 - $1,000 or equivalent hours of community service; drug dependency evaluation; Nevada Victim Impact Panel; license suspension or revocation of one year; intensive drug abuse treatment program; penalties may be as much as doubled for violations within a work zone
- Third offense within a seven-year period: one to six years in prison; fine of $2,000 to $5,000; Nevada Victim Impact Panel; license suspension or revocation of three years; drug evaluation
- Offense causing injury or death: two to 20 years in prison; fine of $2,000 to $5,000; charge of Nevada Vehicular Homicide for persons with three or more previous DUI convictions
Oregon has no blood testing standard, but there is an implied consent rule for blood and urine testing. Refusing a test can be admitted into evidence against the driver.
The law broadly prohibits driving while under the influence of intoxicants: “intoxicating liquor, a controlled substance or an inhalant.” As such, penalties mirror Oregon’s DUI laws.
- First offense: class A misdemeanor; mandatory minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of one year in jail; up to 160 hours of community service; fine of $1,000 - $6,250; license suspension of at least 30 days
- Second offense: class A misdemeanor; mandatory minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of one year in jail; up to 160 hours of community service; fine of $1,500 - $6,250; license suspension of at least 60 days
- Third offense: class A misdemeanor; mandatory minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of one year in jail; up to 160 hours of community service; fine of $2,000 - $6,250; license suspension of at least one year
- Fourth offense within a ten-year period: up to five years imprisonment; minimum fine of $2,000 but not to exceed $125,000 (maximum court-imposed fine of $10,000); license suspension of at least one year
- Other penalties: Any DUI with a passenger present in the vehicle who is under 18 years of age and at least three years younger than the driver, carries a maximum find of $10,000
Washington laws says a person is guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within the state.
The law specifies a blood concentration of THC of 5.0 or higher, derived from blood analysis, within two hours of driving.
Weirdly, these are the only fines we’ve seen that specify increments of half dollars.
- First offense: 24 hours to one year in jail; fine of $865.50 - $5,000; license suspension of 90 days to one year; ignition interlock device (IID) required
- Second offense within a seven-year period: 30 days to one year in jail; fine of $1,120.50 - $5,000; license suspension of two years to 900 days; IID required
- Third offense within a seven-year period: 90 days to one year in jail; fine of $1,970.50 - $5,000; license suspension of two years to 900 days; IID required
Recreational marijuana has been legal in the nation’s capitol since 2014, but, well, it’s complicated. While medical marijuana has been legal here for decades, and dispensaries exist, there isn’t a mechanism to sell non-medical weed. Also, use of marijuana on public grounds or federal property is still illegal – in D.C. that adds up to a lot of ground.
The District of Columbia has DUI law on the books for operating a horse-drawn vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a drug. Forewarned is forearmed.
- First offense: maximum of 90 days in jail; fine of $500 - $1,000; license suspension of 6 months
- Second offense within a 15-year period: maximum of one year in jail; fine of $1,000 - $2,500; license suspension of one year
- Third offense within a 15-year period: maximum of one year in jail; fine of $1,000 - $5,000; license suspension of two years