Most people are aware that driving while under the influence of alcohol is illegal. But did you know that you can also be charged with operating while intoxicated (OWI) if you are caught driving while under the influence of marijuana? For this reason, a Michigan DUI drug lawyer can help a person’s case immensely.
As marijuana continues to gain social and legal acceptance, police are looking out for drivers who may be under the influence of weed. However, unlike the chemical breath and blood tests used to determine intoxication by alcohol, scientists have yet to develop a reliable test that can indicate whether a person is truly impaired by marijuana.
In order to be arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana in Michigan, police must have a reasonable suspicion that you are “visibly impaired ” due to the drug. Law enforcement agents in our state have two main tools to help make this determination: the standard field sobriety tests used in drunk driving cases and drug recognition experts (DREs). However, these tools have inherent flaws when it comes to determining impairment by marijuana.
However, before a law enforcement officer may arrest you for driving under the influence of pot , he or she must establish probable cause. This could include a number of factors, such as:
In some cases, police have arrested drivers based simply on the smell of weed in the vehicle. However, if other incriminating factors are not present, the odor of marijuana on its own may not be enough to establish probable cause.
Michigan is one of several states that have medical marijuana laws. If you are a lawful medical marijuana card holder—in other words you’ve been given a prescription for medical use of marijuana and you properly obtain the marijuana based on your card—you still may not operate a motor vehicle if the marijuana has caused your ability to operate to be substantially lessened for intoxication or lessened to the point that it would be noticed by another person for impairment.
So even if you have a medical marijuana card you could still be charged with OWI drugs if the marijuana caused your ability to operate to be substantially lessened or lessened to the point that it would be noticed by another person.
On the other hand, if you’re driving with marijuana in your system and you do not have a card then it is a zero tolerance crime, meaning any amount in your system is unlawful. So if they test your blood and find THC and you don’t have a card it doesn’t matter if the THC or the marijuana caused your ability to operate to be impacted. It is still unlawful.
Under Michigan state law, driving while under the influence may lead to a charge of operating while intoxicated (OWI) or operating while visibly impaired(OWVI). While both of these charges are serious and can lead to severe penalties, OWVI is the lesser of the two and does not require the same burden of proof as OWI.
The penalties for an OWI or OWVI conviction in Michigan are the same regardless of whether you were intoxicated by alcohol, an illegal substance, or prescription drugs.
For a first-time OWI conviction, you could face:
For a first-time conviction of OWVI, you could face:
Operating while impaired by marijuana, a lot of the same things that apply to operating while impaired by liquor or any other substance apply in the marijuana cases. So, the officer still has to have a proper reason for the initial traffic stop, which can be very broad, what the reasons are, but it has to be a good reason to initially stop somebody who’s driving a vehicle.
And then after that point in time, there still has to be all the right steps to get them to the point where they’re getting someone out of the car to maybe acquire more, and they still can do field sobriety tests. The major differences are that there’s no breath test to test if someone is on the roadside under the influence of marijuana.
They may do some tests that we’re starting to see being used like a lack of convergence test, to try and determine if somebody may be under the influence of marijuana. And then there are certain drug recognition experts or tests that they might do back at a police station to determine further. So, the defenses, sometimes in marijuana cases have to do with the blood testing that would happen afterwards.
So one of the things that would be important to do is not just accept what is on the face sheet that they would provide us that says that the THC level is this, or some of the other numbers that they might provide to us that are more, when THC then breaks down, there’s metabolites they might be looking for as well. And so there might be different levels on that.
So we want to look at those numbers and then actually get more of the raw data that is actually what they use to provide and prepare that face sheet that has just the numbers, the bare numbers on it. So, you want to look kind of a step below all that, because there sometimes are issues with the blood sample, there could be chain of custody issues with that, or the way that the sample was handled or prepared, and then the testing process. So there’s a number of different things that can be done.
It doesn’t just mean because you get a piece of paper that says a certain level was in the blood that automatically that means that someone was impaired by that, and another thing that’s interesting in the marijuana cases is if you’re a medical marijuana patient, then you have some protections and they can’t just say that because you have the presence of marijuana in your system that that means that automatically you’re operating with the presence of drugs. They actually have to show impairment.
So, those are the same kinds of things that we look at with alcohol intoxication or impairment—what kinds of indicators, behaviors really, are there and how can we defend against those? How they did on different tests or the behaviors, are they explained by other things? So, quite a few different defenses, and many of which overlap with alcohol intoxication and other types of intoxication.