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Pot Is Legal in Michigan, but Driving High Is Not – What You Need to Know About Marijuana DUIs

On Behalf of | Apr 8, 2019 | Drug Charge, Firm News, Traffic

With the passage of Proposition 1, cannabis is now legal in Michigan. But, Proposition 1 explicitly makes it illegal to consume marijuana while driving. It is also illegal for any passengers to consume marijuana while the vehicle is on a public road. The law also prohibits driving under the influence of marijuana – but fails to provide a legal definition of driving under the influence. As a result of this lack of legislative guidance, prosecutors are inconsistently applying the state’s Operating While intoxicated (OWI) laws to marijuana users.

Michigan has a zero tolerance policy for drivers with any detectable amount of THC (one of the active ingredients of cannabis) in their system. But, some prosecutors are reluctant to apply this policy, and look instead for evidence of intoxication collected by the police during the traffic stop.

In Michigan, the outcome of your marijuana OWI charge will depend in large part on your lawyer’s ability to advocate on your behalf and to use all available evidence to show that you were not legally intoxicated or to challenge the validity of the stop. To learn more about the options for your case, call a Lansing marijuana DUI lawyer from DeBruin Law PLLC today at  517-324-4303, or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

How Do the Police Prove that You are High Behind the Wheel?

The most confusing issue about marijuana OWIs is the fact that there is no clear analogy between alcohol consumption and marijuana consumption, and their respective effects on driving ability. The more alcohol present in a person’s blood, the more intoxicated they will be. Although there are variations between individuals based on size, age, and sex, most people are objectively too intoxicated to drive after two to four drinks. Our state’s laws reflect this by having a legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of 0.08 percent.

Concerning cannabis, an objective measure of intoxication has proven elusive. Some states have legal limits for blood THC concentration, but these limits have no scientific grounding, and their only benefit is to provide some consistency to drugged driving prosecutions. Unlike alcohol, research has not shown there is a specific blood concentration of THC after which most people are too intoxicated to drive. To further complicate matters, someone can have measurable amounts of THC in their system and not be intoxicated at all. That’s because THC remains in your blood long after the effects of marijuana has run its course.

Michigan Is Inconsistently Applying its Zero Tolerance Policy for Marijuana OWIs

Officially, Michigan has a zero tolerance policy for drivers caught with narcotics such as cocaine, heroin, or marijuana – even if the latter has been legalized. “I suspect there will eventually be a change,” State Senator Rick Jones recently told the Lansing State Journal. “At this time, it absolutely is zero tolerance and you can go to jail for any amount of marijuana in your bloodstream.” This statement was made after the passage of the new legislation.

That being said, a 2013 decision of the Michigan Supreme Court states that medical marijuana card holders cannot be prosecuted for OWI simply because they have THC in their system. The state needs to provide additional proof of intoxication, because research shows that THC metabolites can remain in the user’s system for three to four weeks after smoking or vaping. It remains to be seen if the legal standard for medical marijuana card holders will also be applied to recreational users.

Eaton County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Chris Anderson and Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon told the Lansing State Journal that prosecutors have discretion over whether to charge a driver when they are caught with THC in their system. They did not elaborate on what factors they would weigh in deciding to prosecute under the zero tolerance law. Barry County Prosecutor Julie Nakfoor-Pratt said that for the time being she will continue prosecuting marijuana OWI cases under the zero tolerance law. Chuck Sherman, the prosecutor from Clinton County, simply and honestly told the reporters he was not “100 percent” sure how the law works.

In contrast, Kyle Butler and David Gilbert, the prosecutors for Ionia and Calhoun counties, said they would only prosecute for marijuana OWI if the police could also prove bad driving. Butler said that Proposition 1 prohibits driving “while under the influence of marijuana,” which is not the same as “with any presence of marijuana.” According to him, this means that Proposition 1 implicitly overrides Michigan’s zero tolerance policy for driving with marijuana in your system.

How a Lansing OWI Lawyer Can Help

Depending on where you get pulled over, you could face OWI charges for simply having trace amounts of THC in your system. In other counties, you will only face prosecution if you were driving badly, such as running a red light, swerving, or speeding. Additionally, the police may need to supply proof of your intoxication, such a red eyes, the smell of marijuana, and slow response times. Fortunately, all of this evidence may be countered. As a result, your case may be dismissed or reduced before you get to trial.

For you to obtain this kind of case outcome, you need to retain an experienced lawyer from the earliest stages of the criminal justice process. Fighting the prosecution’s evidence is the most effective way of avoiding an OWI conviction, and the best time to fight is before the trial begins. If you or a loved one has been charged with OWI or OWVI, call DeBruin Law PLLC today at  517-324-4303, or use our online contact form to talk to a drugged driving lawyer.