Since California first legalized medical marijuana in 1996, the legalization of marijuana has remained a hot topic throughout the United States.
Depending on where you live, marijuana might be legal for recreational use, for medicinal use, or it might not be legal at all.
North Dakota legalized medical marijuana relatively recently, in 2016. There are legislative efforts underway to either legalize or decriminalize marijuana for recreational use. For the time being, recreational marijuana remains illegal in North Dakota.
For people who use marijuana for medicinal reasons under the care of a physician, the legalization of marijuana creates some unique pitfalls, especially when it comes to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.
Some people who support the legalization of marijuana - whether for recreational use or medicinal use - believe that driving while high on marijuana is actually safer than driving while under the influence of alcohol. And they may have a point: studies show that people who drive while high on marijuana are less likely to leave their lane than people who are under the influence of alcohol, and are less likely to speed. In fact, people who are high can often perform simple tasks, but doing so requires that they use a larger portion of their brain than someone who is not under the influence of marijuana.
Driving while high might be safer than driving while drunk, but it’s still not as safe as driving while sober. Drivers who are under the influence of marijuana are twice as likely to be involved in an automobile accident when compared to sober drivers. And while driving under the influence of marijuana may be less dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under the influence of marijuana is still more dangerous than driving while sober.
When compared to people who are sober, people who are high on marijuana have slower reaction times, decreased visual perception, and a lower ability to multitask. These are all skills that are necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle. As a result, even though marijuana has been legalized in North Dakota for medicinal purposes, it is still illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, even if you have a valid prescription.
In North Dakota, it is illegal to operate a vehicle while under the influence of any drug, substance, or combination of drugs or substances to a degree which renders that person incapable of safely driving; or under the combined influence of alcohol and any other drugs or substances to a degree which renders that person incapable of safely driving. N.D.C.C. § 39-08-01.
Just like you can be convicted for DUI if you are under the influence of alcohol to the extent that you are incapable of safely driving, you can be charged with and convicted of DUI for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana if it makes you unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.
Marijuana remains categorized as a “drug or intoxicant.” If you are driving while under the influence of marijuana, even with a valid prescription, you can be charged with and convicted of driving while under the influence of marijuana.
Unlike a DUI for alcohol, there is no per se legal limit to be convicted of a marijuana DUI.
To charge someone with a marijuana DUI, police often rely on their perception that a driver is “under the influence.”
If a driver is stopped and suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, police officers will evaluate the driver for signs of impairment that make the driver incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.
Police officers are trained to identify signs of marijuana intoxication, and can rule in or out certain drugs based on a suspect’s performance on various Field Sobriety Tests. Police officers may also request a blood or urine test to confirm the presence of drugs in the driver’s system. Officers may or may not need a warrant to obtain this urine or blood sample, depending upon the circumstances of the driving conduct. If a driver refuses to provide a urine or blood sample, the government may be able to charge the driver with a “DUI refusal,” which carries the same or potentially worse penalties than a normal DUI.
North Dakota takes a hard line when it comes to driving while under the influence of marijuana.
A marijuana DUI conviction in North Dakota will not automatically result in jail time; however, you will be subject to potential jail time, a fine of $500 to $2,000 plus court costs, a mandatory chemical dependency evaluation, mandatory probation, potential 24/7 sobriety program participation, and a driver’s license suspension.
Our criminal defense lawyers may be able to challenge whether the initial traffic stop was legal, or challenge the officer’s perception that you were under the influence of marijuana or incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle. If the police officer lacked probable cause to stop you, your criminal defense lawyer could have the case dismissed, charges amended, or negotiate a favorable plea bargain.
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