In recent years, there's been a big change in how cannabis is perceived in many parts of the world. Scientific and medical research has shown that this unique plant has a lot of medicinal benefits to offer, and various laws have consequently been relaxed regarding the usage of cannabis for medical and even recreational purposes.
California is a great example of this, as the state's famous Proposition 64 to legalize the usage and sale of cannabis for all adults passed in 2016. However, while some laws have softened regarding cannabis usage, there are other parts of the law that remain firm, like those around cannabis-impaired driving. This article will look at cannabis driving laws in California.
Legalization of Cannabis in California
California is widely regarded as one of the most progressive and liberal states in terms of its approach to cannabis law. Medical cannabis has been legal in this state since as far back as 1996, and the state has led the charge in many ways to legalize cannabis for as many people as possible, starting off way back in the early 1970s with Proposition 19.
While Prop 19 wasn't a success, California still became the first state to legalize medical cannabis via the Compassionate Use Act. Then, two decades later, in 2016, Californian voters voted in favor of Proposition 64, or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, allowing for legal recreational use.
Thanks to Prop 64, it's now legal in the state of California for any adult aged 21+ to use, transport, and buy marijuana. It's also allowed to be a cannabis grower, as well as cultivating plants in one's own home, if desired. However, despite all of the allowances, California, just like other states across the US, still forbids driving while high, as well as using cannabis while driving.
The Effects of Cannabis on Driving Ability
The reason why the law tends to be quite strict regarding driving while using cannabis is clear: for all of its therapeutic and medicinal benefits, cannabis can have a clear and direct impact on a driver's ability to control their motor vehicle. It can make it harder for you to stay in control and increases the likelihood of you having an accident.
- Slower Reactions - Studies show that cannabis can slow down a user's reaction times, which could make it hard for a driver to react if they need to hit the brakes and slow down suddenly due to a hazard or pedestrian on the road.
- Perception Issues - Cannabis can also have a negative impact on your general perceptions of distance and time. You might feel that time is moving a little slower than usual or find it hard to tell how far your car is from another vehicle or stop sign.
- Decisions - Cannabis has also been proven to impact users' decision-making abilities. It may put the user into a more relaxed and carefree state where they can make unsafe decisions, especially behind the wheel of a car.
Cannabis vs Alcohol: Comparison of Cannabis and Alcohol Impairment
When comparing a drunk driver to a driver under the influence of marijuana, many experts say that the two are just as dangerous as each other. So-called 'stoned driving' may not have caused as many accidents or deaths as drunk driving at the moment, but that's only due to the fact that cannabis was illegal for so long.
Both of these forms of intoxication can make a driver far more likely to make a bad decision that leads to a dangerous and deadly accident, and one should not be seen as less dangerous or risky than the other.
California Laws on Cannabis and Driving
So, what's the state of California's view regarding driving while high? In simple terms, it is illegal in California to drive under the influence of any substance, from alcohol to marijuana. Those found with THC in their system can be charged and may receive various punishments, including jail time, a suspended license, and fines.
Penalties for Cannabis DUI
Next, let’s look at some of the possible penalties for a cannabis DUI in California:
- First Offense - Possible sentences include a 6-month jail term, up to $1,000 fine, 9-month DUI school term, and up to 10 months of license suspension
- Second Offense - Possible sentences include up to 1 year in jail, a $1,000 fine, up to 30 months of DUI school, and up to 2 years of license suspension
- Third Offense - Possible sentences include up to 1 year in jail, a $5,000 fine, 30 months of DUI school and license revoked for 3 years
- Felony - For felony charges, penalties can be significantly more severe, especially if injuries have occurred, and may include up to 16 years in state prison
A Los Angeles DUI lawyer may be able to help those who have been charged with a DUI to receive a lower sentence, and penalties can vary based on the circumstances of the case.
Safety Measures to Prevent Cannabis-Impaired Driving
States like California have various systems in place to try to cut down on marijuana-impaired driving state-wide. The state aims to educate drivers of all ages on the risks of driving under the influence, and its law enforcement services also carry out routine stops and checks of drivers to look for signs of cannabis usage.
Technology for Detecting Cannabis Impairment
In terms of technological ways to detect marijuana impairment, law enforcement in states like California makes use of various tests and tools, like the THC breathalyzer, to detect traces of THC in a driver's system. There are also other health scanners both in use and in development which can provide alternative means to see if a driver has been using marijuana recently.
Conclusion - Why you should never drive after smoking weed.
The dangers of driving while under the influence of cannabis are very real, and marijuana may lead to accidents, injuries, and even fatalities. For that reason, cannabis-impaired driving is an issue that needs to be taken seriously, which is why so many states, including California, have strict laws on the matter.