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What Are the Rules for Medical Cannabis and Car Accidents?

Learn the Basics of Medical Marijuana and Driving

By Brien PennPublished 3 years ago 7 min read

From a young age we are taught, "don't drink and drive." So, it's generally understood that it's illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs. This includes marijuana and medical-grade cannabis. However, if you live in Vermont, Massachusetts, or any state that has made it legal to use cannabis for medical purposes, you might think that the traditional "under the influence" phrase doesn't apply. In fact, it's the contrary no state allows for medical marijuana permit patients to drive while under the influence of cannabis. These states believe that an impaired motorist is an unsafe driver, regardless of the reason for impairment.

It's important to understand the rules governing medical cannabis and driving. Doing so will allow a person to avoid DUI charges after treatments or use. Penalties for DUI convictions traditionally can be quite hefty and can include fines, jail time, and license suspensions.

What Are the Effects of Driving While Under the Influence of Medical Cannabis?

Unlike alcohol or other types of drugs, medical cannabis or any type of marijuana can be detected in the user’s system long after its use, typically around 30 days or more. This is substantial especially given that the impairing effects last from around 45 to 90 minutes. These effects can last even longer when cannabis is a medical-grade or taken in different forms such as oils or concentrates.

The THC in cannabis on the other hand can remain in a user’s system anywhere from three days for first-time users to more than 30 days for long-term patients. As a result of THC levels being more difficult to detect the time of use, some states have created strict liability laws concerning cannabis use and driving. This means that these states have developed a zero-tolerance approach to driving with THC in a person's system.

Under other conditions such as consuming alcohol, a blood alcohol content of .08 in a driver’s system is enough to consider him impaired and be arrested for driving under the influence. Working off the general rule, if your blood alcohol content is at the limit of .08, it would go down to 0.065 after about one hour. Following this, it would take roughly five hours and twenty minutes for your body to completely metabolize the alcohol. This time-period is contingent on how much the person has had to drink. So, the length of time may vary. Regardless, the length of time the body takes to metabolize alcohol it still is substantially less than medical cannabis.

When marijuana is used THC and other chemicals in the plant pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, which is rapidly carried to the brain. The person begins to experience effects almost immediately. Marijuana over activates the parts of the brain that contain the highest number of receptors. This causes certain common effects on the consumer that can considerably affect the person's ability to drive, such as:

 Altered senses like seeing brighter colors;

 impaired body movement;

 difficulty with thinking and problem-solving;

 impaired memory;

 altered sense of time; and

 hallucinations, when taken in high doses.

Driving Lawfully as a Medical Cannabis Patient

As a cannabis consumer, medical or otherwise, it is important to understand how to drive lawfully. Doing so will allow you to avoid DUI charges after using medicinal marijuana. Ultimately driving lawfully dependents on where you live and what your state's regulations are.

To be convicted of a DUI, the prosecutor must first show that the driver was under the influence. While state laws vary in their definition of under the influence. Prosecutors have two main ways to show that a driver was in fact, under the influence. The first is by simply establishing the driver was impaired by marijuana. This can be done through police reports, expert testimony, or cross-examination under oath. The second is by showing that the driver consumed a certain concentration of THC in their system at the time of the stop. So much so, that the marijuana could only have been consumed while or just before getting behind the wheel. The DUI laws of some states allow prosecutors to establish a DUI by either method. In other states, a marijuana DUI can be established only by proving actual driver impairment.

Laws that prohibit driving with a certain concentration of marijuana in your system are typically called per se laws. Depending on the state you live in, a per se marijuana DUI law might set the limit at a certain measurable amount of THC. In some states, a driver is considered under the influence if at all affected by marijuana. Other states require proof of substantial impairment. Additionally, some states apply slightly more lenient standards to medical marijuana patients than they do for motorists who use marijuana illegally.

Given this information, for a medical cannabis user, or any other marijuana user, the key is to not drive while under the influence. As described, the definition of under the influence may vary, so it is increasingly important to understand what your state's laws are concerning the legal definition of under the influence. However, as always it is safer to not get behind the wheel after consuming cannabis or any other drug than to find yourself in a situation that can result in criminal charges based on a definition. While this may be harder for medical marijuana patients, who are prescribed or given doses by a medical professional, it is important to follow the time instructions given by your doctor. By doing this it will significantly decrease the chances of getting behind the wheel while impaired or under the influence.

Maryland’s Rules on Medical Cannabis

The state of Maryland has taken significant steps to create and improve its medical cannabis regulations. The state has legalized medical marijuana and has decriminalized possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana. This is on par with a large portion of the United States.

The Maryland Code of Transportation, section 21-902, states that a person may not drive or attempt to drive a vehicle while so impaired by any drug or combination of drugs that he or she cannot safely operate the vehicle. This includes medical cannabis. A first offense of DUI with marijuana in Maryland could result in imprisonment of up to two months and/or a fine of up to $500. A second offense increases the possible sentence to one year in prison.

 Recreational Marijuana in Maryland

The passing of Senate Bill 364 in 2014 made the possession of fewer than 10 grams of recreational marijuana for personal use a civil offense. However, possession of greater quantities of marijuana is still a criminal offense. While, carrying up to 50 pounds of marijuana is a misdemeanor, possession of quantities greater than 50 pounds is a felony in the state. Maryland also imposes minimum mandatory sentences for some marijuana-related offenses.

 Medical Marijuana in Maryland

Medical marijuana was legalized in Maryland in 2014 when House Bill 881 was created and signed into law. To acquire a medical marijuana prescription in the state, patients must acquire a written certification from a licensed physician and register with the state’s program. Under the law in the state of Maryland, people who meet the criteria for treatment can become legal patients. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are responsible for developing regulations for marijuana access. Once a patient registers with the state, a person can possess up to 120 grams, at one time, unless a physician makes a special determination allowing the patient to be prescribed more. Typically, the law in the state approves medical marijuana for conditions such as:

 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder;

 glaucoma;

 seizures;

 severe or chronic pain;

 severe loss of appetite; or

 any severe condition, for which other medical treatments have been ineffective.

Get Legal Advice on Driving as a Medical Marijuana Patient

Maryland and many other states have made it legal to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, as long as the patient is registered and follows the laws concerning amounts. On the other hand, no state allows for driving under the influence or driving after using medical marijuana, even if the patient is registered and follows the rules. This can be especially problematic for medical cannabis patients because, as explained, the medical cannabis and metabolites can remain in the body for some time after use, with little effect on the person's driving.

If you have or haven’t been charged with a DUI, an experienced attorney can inform you as to ways you can stay within the law as a medical marijuana patient. Likewise, an experienced lawyer will be extremely beneficial in determining your legal course of action after receiving a DUI.

Maryland Accident Lawyers

If you have been injured by a driver how was impaired with medical cannabis, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Contact a Maryland car accident lawyer to find out what your rights are.

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