With the recent opening of legal retail marijuana shops in neighboring Massachusetts, authorities report they are on watch for the impact on Connecticut residents, especially drivers. Whether people use marijuana in Massachusetts and then drive across state lines or transport marijuana from Massachusetts and use it in Connecticut, police officers can stop and arrest drivers suspected of being under the influence of the drugs. This often leads to the question: How stoned is too stoned to drive in Connecticut?
Safety Limits for Driving After Marijuana
The short answer is that it’s never a good idea to drive after using marijuana. If you are feeling stoned at all, you are impaired by the drug and it is not safe to drive. Many people expect the law to set a legal limit—or legal presumption of intoxication—for marijuana just like there is for alcohol which is currently 0.08 percent Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). However, research regularly indicates that the absorption, distribution, and elimination of marijuana from the body is very different from that of alcohol.
Many additional factors can affect a person’s level of impairment from marijuana, which include:
- Method of ingestion, such as smoking, consuming edibles, or oils
- The potency of certain strains of marijuana
- User characteristics, including tolerance to THC
No determinant level of “stoned” will or will not get you in trouble with the law or pose a threat to others on the road. The best course of action is to avoid driving after using marijuana until its effects wear off.
Traffic Stops for Drugged Driving
Law enforcement officers are looking out for drugged drivers just as much as they are for drunk drivers. In both situations, an officer simply needs a reasonable suspicion that you violated any law to pull you over. This can include speeding, failing to signal, or even just having a tail light out. Once they pull you over, officers are then free to observe you for any signs of impairment, including from marijuana.
Police officers regularly look for key signs that a driver is stoned, including:
- Seeing or smelling smoke in the car
- Smelling marijuana in the car
- Red, bloodshot eyes
- Slower communication
- Signs of drowsiness
- Slower reaction times
Officers who suspect that a driver recently used marijuana cannot simply pull out a Breathalyzer device to test blood levels. No roadside tests are currently available to test for levels of THC in a person’s system. (Even if there were, they may produce unreliable results, as discussed below.) An officer, however, may request a Breathalyzer test to see if a driver has mixed alcohol and marijuana.
An officer who rules out driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol will usually request that the driver participates in field sobriety tests to determine if there is probable cause for an arrest. An officer who is not a trained drug recognition expert may call one to the scene to conduct the tests. These experts are trained in methods (however reliable or unreliable) to detect signs of drug impairment during roadside field sobriety tests. An officer who concludes on the basis of the field sobriety tests and other evidence that a driver is under the influence of drugs can arrest and take the driver to the police station for a blood or urine test.
THC Levels and Connecticut Law
Blood and urine tests at the police station are used to detect illegal drugs in a driver’s system. For marijuana, this usually means the presence of THC in the bloodstream. Using THC to determine possible driver impairment is problematic for many reasons, however. Specifically, THC can remain in a person’s system for hours, days, or longer after the effects of marijuana wear off. Heavier users can have lingering levels of THC for weeks. This means that police can detect THC in your system when you are not even the slightest bit stoned or in violation of Connecticut law.
Despite the known issues regarding using THC levels to measure impairment, many states base their drugged driving laws regarding marijuana on THC levels.
For example, the following states have specific thresholds of THC that presume impaired driving:
The following states have zero-tolerance laws (meaning any amount of THC can result in a drugged driving charge):
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
Connecticut is not on either of those lists, because Connecticut’s drugged driving law does not depend on a specific level of THC in a driver’s blood. Connecticut law simply states that a person commits the crime of DUI when operating a vehicle “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug or both.”
This means that it is up to the prosecutor to present sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were under the influence of marijuana at the time you drove. While a prosecutor can certainly submit a blood or urine test result showing high levels of THC as evidence, minimal levels of THC in your system may not prove driving impairment. Prosecutors often rely heavily on the testimony of arresting officers who claim they observed signs of impairment at the traffic stop and/or during field sobriety testing.
This makes drugged driving cases involving marijuana especially complicated in Connecticut. An experienced DUI defense lawyer, however, can help you defend against the allegations that you were too stoned to drive. A strong defense is critical, as the consequences for a first-time drugged driving conviction can include a $1,000 fine, six months in jail, and a driver’s license suspension for one year, among other penalties.
Contact Our Experienced Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Right Away
Koffsky & Felsen, LLC understands the complexities surrounding marijuana and driving under the influence in Connecticut. We handle a wide range of DUI and drug-related cases, working to defend our clients against harsh criminal charges. If you were arrested, call (203) 327-1500 or contact us online today to discuss how we can help in your case.