Medical Marijuana Patient Acquitted of DWI

By Larry Lamsa (Outside of Ridgway, Colorado) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) includes more than just alcohol. Almost any drug that causes an impairment can lead to a DWI charge. The law in New Jersey and other states specifically sets a “legal limit” for blood alcohol content (BAC), but it does not always specify an amount for other substances. Different substances also require different tests, and not all tests are reliable. A driver charged with DWI in Colorado due to a positive marijuana test recently obtained an acquittal after she argued that the marijuana test cannot prove that she was impaired at the time she was driving. Colorado law is significantly different from New Jersey law on this issue, but this state’s law is gradually changing.

Colorado is one of a handful of states to have effectively legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use. In New Jersey, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, except for some narrow exceptions allowed by the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA). The defendant in the Colorado case reportedly moved to that state specifically so that she could use marijuana for her chronic back pain. An officer pulled her over in June 2014, not for erratic driving but for an expired license plate tag. After noticing the smell of marijuana, the officer required her to perform field sobriety tests, which she allegedly failed. A blood test showed a marijuana level of 19 nanograms, well above the state’s limit of five nanograms.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with DWI. They offered her a plea deal, which she reportedly rejected because it would require her to give up her medical marijuana card for up to two years. The case went to a jury trial, which is allowed in Colorado, unlike New Jersey. She argued that her test results were not conclusive evidence that she was impaired at the time she was driving her vehicle, since THC, the active component of marijuana, lingers in the bloodstream far longer than alcohol or other substances. While a blood test to determine BAC might indicate that a person recently consumed alcohol, she argued, a blood test for marijuana cannot tell whether or not a person is actually impaired. The jury agreed and nullified the charges.

Under New Jersey law, any amount of marijuana in a person’s system can serve as evidence of DWI. The state has made some modifications to how it approaches marijuana-related cases, but for the most part, the burden is on medical marijuana patients to prove that they are legally authorized to possess or use the drug. It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution, meaning that the defendant must prove it in court. The Appellate Division ruled in State v. Myers in early September 2015 that CUMMA did not affect law enforcement’s ability to use the smell of marijuana as probable cause to suspect a marijuana offense. This most likely also applies to DWI cases.

A New Jersey DWI case can significantly affect your life, with potential consequences extending beyond jail time and license suspension. You must act quickly to protect your rights by seeking the help of an experienced and skilled DWI attorney. We have dedicated our entire law practice at Levow DWI Law to defending people’s rights in DWI cases. Contact us today online or at (877) 975-3399 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Five Factors Courts May Consider in Determining Whether a Driver Was Impaired in a New Jersey DWI Case, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, September 17, 2015

Recent Decisions in Several New Jersey DWI Appeals Demonstrate that Actual Driving Is Not Always Required to Sustain a DWI Conviction, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 19, 2015

Drug Court Program May Be Available in Some New Jersey DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, May 13, 2015

Photo credit: By Larry Lamsa (Outside of Ridgway, Colorado) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.