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Marijuana use and D.U.I.

We are currently seeing an increase in arrests for Driving Under the Influence for persons suspected of using marijuana. As Ohio moves towards the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use this situation is likely to increase even further.

The Ohio law prohibiting Operating a Motor Vehicle Under the Influence (commonly referred to as O.V.I. or D.U.I.) covers alcohol and/or drugs of abuse which includes marijuana. Therefore a person charged with driving under the influence of marijuana faces the same penalties as a person operating under the influence of alcohol. There are a number of issues however which are very different in a marijuana case.

A typical O.V.I case starts with a traffic stop. When the officer makes contact with the driver in an alcohol case he can usually detect the odor of alcohol emanating from the driver and note how strong it is. In a marijuana case any odor typically is coming from the vehicle and not the driver themselves. If the officer asks the person to perform field sobriety tests, marijuana use does not usually cause slurred speech or as severe an impairment of motor skills as alcohol and persons. The issue is whether or not the person is impaired while operating the motor vehicle and this is usually more obvious in an alcohol case than a marijuana case.

Many persons charged with O.V.I. for marijuana had been smoking it hours earlier and did not feel its effects at the time of their arrest but are still convicted because they consented to a urine test. When a person is arrested for O.V.I. they are taken to a police station and asked to take a breath or urine test. If they test over the legal limit they are charged with B.A.C which is operating a motor vehicle with a prohibited concentration of alcohol and or drugs in their system. The penalties and consequences for B.A.C. are identical to a D.U.I. charge and they are basically treated as the same thing on a person’s driving record. Unfortunately the limits set for marijuana are very low and it is not uncommon for a person to have ingested it many hours earlier or even the day before and still test over the legal limit. This means a person could have smoked marijuana but not be under the influence of its effects and still be convicted. A person recently smoking marijuana could test two or more times the limit which requires double the mandatory jail time.

If you are stopped while driving by the police after smoking marijuana, you should NEVER admit to smoking marijuana at any time, even if the police find marijuana on your person. If questioned you should respond that you don’t want to answer any questions until you speak to an attorney. You should refuse to take any field sobriety tests as well. If you are arrested you should refuse to take a urine or blood test if you have been recently smoking marijuana or have been a heavy marijuana smoker within the last few days. You should then contact an experienced attorney who will challenge the probable cause for your arrest and appeal the license suspension for refusing the test. If a court finds there was no probable cause to arrest you the case will be dismissed and the license suspension can be cancelled.

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