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Is Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana a Crime?

November 29, 2018

Is Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana a Crime?With the legalization of weed a future possibility, more people are unsure of what substance use is considered okay while driving.  More specifically, those legally using marijuana want to know if it is illegal to drive while under the influence of this drug’s effects.  The simple answer is a resounding and definite yes. Regardless of it is being used medically or socially, it is still considered against the law to drive while high in all 50 states.  Anyone who is caught can be charged with a DUI and should exercise caution.

Why Is It Illegal to Be Under the Influence of Marijuana while Driving?

Putting it simply, any sort of substance that prevents someone from driving safely can result in an arrest.  Even if you are using the substance legally, such as prescription painkillers, it can get you into trouble if you are significantly impaired.  This may be frustrating news for medical marijuana patients using it for pain or mental disabilities.

There are definitely side-effects to marijuana that impair driving.  Weed is considered a unique drug as it has stimulant, depressant, and hallucinogen properties.  Regarding depressant properties, it can make a user sleepy and overly relaxed which can mess with things like detection of targets or tracking moving objects.  It has minor hallucinogenic properties that can cause spatial perception issues, slowed reaction time, and some loss of motor control. Marijuana can even cause anxiety and rapid heartbeat.  A stimulate brain is more likely to take risks as well.

What Constitutes Being “Under the Influence” of Weed in NJ?

Some states consider ANY signs of the drug in your system to be “under the influence”.  This includes small metabolites, which break down different kinds of food. This is considered a 0-Tolerance state.  On the other hand, is the concept of “per se”, which means that there are set limits on how much of the substance can be present in the body.

18 states have zero tolerance or non-zero per se laws for marijuana:

  • 9 states have zero tolerance for THC or a metabolite.
  • 3 states have zero tolerance for THC but no restriction on metabolites.
  • 5 states have specific per se limits for THC
  • 1 state (Colorado) has a reasonable inference law for THC (more than five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood)

New Jersey, along with the rest of the states have no specific laws regarding marijuana use and driving.  Instead, it entirely depends on the opinion of a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), the judge, and results from blood/urine testing.

Defining “Driving” in Regard to NJ DUIs

States differ in their definitions of “driving.”  It is not always as simple as operating a moving or turned-on vehicle.  The definitions goes a lot broader to allow for specific circumstances and reduce the chance of people under the influence even considering driving or getting into the vehicle at all.  It also allows for convictions if there is enough evidence that points to the defendant’s intent to actually start driving the car. Driving can mean operating the vehicle, but it can also be defined as being in physical control of a vehicle (on or off).

With this in mind, New Jersey judges look at four specific factors to decide on an individual’s intent to drive or operate a vehicle and whether a DUI is a valid conviction.  These factors are:

  • Control of the Motor Vehicle
  • Intention to Operate the Motor Vehicle
  • Action to Place Motor Vehicle in Motion
  • The Possibility and Ability of Placing Motor Vehicle in Motion

New Jersey Marijuana DUI Penalties

A NJ Marijuana DUI conviction can result in varying penalties, but courts often follow a specific guideline used throughout the country.  First-time offenses result in a fine between $250 and $400 and/or up to a month in jail. It can also result in drivers license privileges being revoked for up to a year.

After your first offense, the penalties worsen. The court can fine you $500 and $1,000. On top of the fine, jail time can be increased up to three months time.  There is also a chance of 30 days of community service and the loss of your license for up to 2 years.

If you have three offenses, that’s when things can get really serious.  The fine could be as much as $1,000, you can spend up to six months in jail, and lose your license for up to ten years.

It is important to note that depending on how an individual acts in court and the details of each case will result in varying judge decisions. If she feels that jail time is not needed, then she can order probation instead. These guidelines are only to show you maximum sentences and fines.   

Factors that Make the Penalties Worse

Obviously, there are other factors that can make a marijuana DUI conviction a lot worse.  These can include:

  • Repeated offenses
  • Age of the others in the car at the time
  • Driving with a license suspension
  • Causing actual damage or harm to objects and people
  • The defendant being a minor
  • Being under the influence of more than one substance
  • Being under the influence at extremely high content levels.


Schedule a Consultation With an Expert New Jersey DUI Attorney

Marijuana DUI convictions often come down to an officer’s observations and judgements, medical testing, and the judge’s opinion.  Bias exists and each DUI arrest and its resulting penalties are different. New Jersey doesn’t have certain THC limits or 0-tolerance policies, instead relying on evidence on a case by case basis.  Criminal defense lawyer Michele Finizio will make sure to lead the case in the right direction and get you the best possible verdict you deserve.   You can feel comfortable knowing that the Finizio office specializes in DWIs and DUIs. Don’t be afraid to contact her law office with any questions.  Her law office can be reached at 856-888-9059.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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