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Driving High: Pennsylvania’s Drugged Driving Laws

Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. Dec. 27, 2021

Marijuana and other drugs, legal and illegal, have long been factors in arrests for driving under the influence (DUI). Driving high may be more complicated to prove than evidence of a blood alcohol level (BAC) over the legal limit, but the presence of drugs in a driver’s bloodstream is sufficient for a DUI arrest based on impaired driving.

Now that marijuana is legal for medical use, recreational use, or both in some states, using and driving have become prominent issues. Studies of states where recreational use is legal indicate increased motor vehicle crashes attributable to marijuana use.

Statistics in states like Pennsylvania where only medical use is allowed have not demonstrated the marked increase. However, marijuana use—as with any other over the counter or prescription medication that affects psychomotor function—can lead to charges of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) in Pennsylvania. In fact, the state is one of a dozen in the country that has a zero-tolerance law prohibiting any amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or its metabolites, regardless of whether you obtained your marijuana legally or not.

If you've been charged with driving under the influence of drugs, reach out to me. At Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C, I provide legal advice and representation to those arrested for DUID in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in Fox Chapel, Penn Hills, Aspinwall, Oakmont Borough, and Shaler, Ross, O’Hara, and Indiana Townships.

What Is Pennsylvania Law Regarding Marijuana?

Medical marijuana became legal in Pennsylvania in 2016 and became available for purchase in 2018. It must be prescribed by a physician approved to do so and can only be prescribed for 23 different medical conditions. A patient must apply for an identification card that allows them to purchase marijuana as prescribed from an authorized dispensary.

What is Pennsylvania’s Impaired Driving Law?

Although an approved patient may use marijuana, by law they may not operate a motor vehicle within a certain period while any trace of it or its metabolites remains in their bloodstream. The same zero-tolerance law applies to any Schedule I controlled substance, prescribed or not. If law enforcement believes your ability to drive to be impaired and you have any amount of marijuana in your system, you can be arrested for DUID.

Drugged driving also includes Schedule II and III substances not prescribed, under the influence of any drug or combination of drugs, under the influence of a combination of drugs and alcohol, and under the influence of toxic and noxious substances, any of which impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

What Are the Possible Penalties for DUID?

As with DUIs, the penalties for DUID are based on the number of DUID arrests in a 10-year period. Even a first offense can result in 72 hours to six months in jail, fines from $1,000 to $5,000, and/or loss of your driver’s license for one year. A third conviction can result in a prison sentence for up to five years, up to $10,000 in fines, and/or an 18-month license suspension.

The court will also order a drug evaluation and may order completion of a drug program. Community service and participation in a victim impact panel may also be part of the punishment for conviction.

Possible Legal Defenses for DUID

Although in some states, arguing that you use marijuana with a prescription might lessen the penalties for DUID, Pennsylvania’s zero-tolerance stance makes that argument somewhat unwinnable. There are, however, some possible legal defenses because in DUID cases, the evidence used against you is largely based on the law enforcement officer’s observations. That is more subjective than having a BAC of .08 or more.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can challenge your performance on field sobriety tests due to such issues as uneven surface conditions, flashing lights, normal lack of balance and coordination, and mental or physical disability. Particularly with some of the medical conditions that warrant the prescribed use of medical marijuana, such as anxiety disorders, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases, autism, and Tourette syndrome, your attorney may be able to argue that observations of impairment were actually caused by the disease itself.

Getting the Experienced Legal Guidance You Need

Any DUI or DUID conviction has a long-lasting negative impact on your life. Convictions can harm your employment, professional licensure and certification, and even custody of your children. If you suffer from any of the medical conditions that warrant prescription marijuana, you are already facing tremendous challenges. Don’t face a DUID without a skilled criminal defense lawyer on your side.

If you have been arrested for DUID in or around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, call Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. to schedule a one-on-one consultation.