Marijuana and Driving
Dec. 19, 2021
Colorado holds the distinction of being the first state, along with Oregon, to legalize recreational marijuana usage. It’s been almost ten years now, taking place back in 2012.
Though usage and possession of marijuana are legal for those 21 and older, there are restrictions on where it can be consumed and how it can be transported. And, if you operate a vehicle after – or while – consuming marijuana, you can be charged with either a DUI (driving under the influence), a DUID (driving under the influence of drugs), or a DWAI (driving while ability impaired).
If you’ve been charged with a marijuana-related offense while operating your vehicle in or around Boulder, Colorado, including nearby Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, or Broomfield, contact me at Watkins Law Firm LLC. I will work with you personally, investigate your case, and determine your best legal avenue for mitigation or defense. And I will then fight for the best possible outcome.
Marijuana in Your Vehicle
You’ve just purchased some marijuana from a legal dispensary and you’re headed home with it in your vehicle. What are the laws governing this?
First, Colorado laws revised in 2016 limit the amount you may possess to:
1 ounce of cannabis flowers, or
8 grams of concentrate (also known as hash, marijuana concentrate, wax, resin, or shatter), or
800 mg of edibles
Next, what about transporting it home or elsewhere?
It is a violation for a person in the passenger area of a motor vehicle on a public highway to knowingly consume marijuana or have an open marijuana container in their possession. The law mirrors that for carrying an open container of alcohol while operating a vehicle.
Fortunately, possession of an open container is not a criminal offense in Colorado but a traffic infraction subject to a fine. Since it is not a crime, the burden of proof drops from “beyond a shadow of a doubt” to “a preponderance of the evidence.”
The crucial phrase to remember in all of this is “in the passenger area of a motor vehicle.” If you place the container in the back seat area or trunk, you likely will escape from being arrested.
If you’re actually smoking the marijuana from the open container in your passenger area, you can then be subject to DUI, DUID, or DWAI charges.
Proving You’re Driving Impaired
If you’re pulled over for an alcohol-related impaired driving offense, you will likely be given a breathalyzer test to check your blood alcohol content, or you’ll be taken in and given a blood test to check your level. In either situation, you are obliged to submit to the tests under Colorado’s implied consent laws. In other words, by obtaining a driver’s license, you gave your consent that you would submit to these tests.
The same holds true if you’re pulled over for impaired driving and marijuana is suspected. In this case, there is no portable testing device yet in use, so you’ll likely be given a roadside impairment test and/or be taken in for a blood test. If your test shows you have five nanograms or more of active THC per milligram of blood, you will be presumed impaired and can be charged. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
You should remember, however, that an impaired driving arrest and charge can result from the observation and documentation of your driving by the arresting officer, even if your THC level comes in below five ng/ml.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CODOT) states:
“The primary determinant is the driving behavior and observed level of impairment witnessed and documented by the law enforcement officer. Arrests are made on observed impairment. Any level of active THC in your blood can put you at risk of a DUI.”
Consult With an Experienced Attorney
You should contact an attorney immediately if you’ve been taken in on suspicion of impaired driving. Don’t just throw up your arms and conclude: “What can I do? They caught me red-handed.” There are ways to get the charge reduced or dismissed and even to lower the penalties you might otherwise face.
A conviction is going to make purchasing auto insurance expensive for a long time, and the conviction will also go on your criminal record, which can haunt you for years if not your entire lifetime. It can make finding employment and obtaining professional licensing hard. It can even make signing a lease or rental agreement difficult.
If you’re in or around Boulder, Colorado, contact me immediately at Watkins Law Firm LLC. I have been active in the criminal justice system in the area for more than two decades, and I have professional relationships with many of those on the prosecutorial side. My long-term relationships in the industry help me get prosecutors and judges to see things from my clients’ perspectives.
I will personally stand by you throughout the whole legal process and fight to get the best possible outcome for you.