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Medical Cannabis and the DUI Trap

A Problem in Pennsylvania

By Adam PhillipsPublished 4 months ago 4 min read

On April 17, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed SB-3, the Medical Marijuana Act, into law. It went into effect a month later, although dispensary sales would not begin until 2018. The law legalized the use of medical cannabis for registered patients with one of seventeen qualifying conditions. While this bill paved the way to assist patients across the state, it also left law enforcement free to continue arresting and criminalizing cannabis users, as if nothing had changed.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be interpreted as legal advice. I am simply bringing awareness to what we know about the laws and how they are currently enforced. If you have legal trouble, contact a lawyer.

Medical Cannabis is Legal, but is it?

The Medical Marijuana Act of 2016 legalized medical cannabis, but failed to address the “zero-tolerance” DUI laws of Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, any amount of a Schedule I substance detected in your blood, regardless of legality, constitutes a misdemeanor DUI. As of today, any medical cannabis patient in Pennsylvania who drives a car is subject to a DUI at any time.

The blood tests are searching for a THC metabolite that can be detected for months, while any intoxicating effects of cannabis wear off within a few hours. As a result, many people are getting a DUI for cannabis while they are stone-cold sober.

This is a gross miscarriage of justice and a failure by the Pennsylvania State Congress. Medical Cannabis was legalized while completely failing to protect patients. Currently, only the presence of THC metabolite is needed for a DUI. Intoxication does not need to be proven. Recently, cannabis DUI arrests have increased, while lawmakers would rather sit on their hands in place of real reform in the keystone state.

Pennsylvania State: What’s in a DUI?

In Pennsylvania, DUI Penalties break down like this:

  1. First offense: Imprisonment minimum 72 hours, with a maximum prison sentence of 6 months. The fine is a minimum of $1000, with a maximum fine of $5000. The first offense is a misdemeanor and requires a license suspension of at least 18 months. The offender may also be required to complete 150 hours of community service.
  2. Second offense: Imprisonment minimum 90 days, with a maximum prison sentence of 6 months. The fine is a minimum of $1500, with a maximum fine of $5000. The second offense is a misdemeanor and requires a license suspension of at least 18 months. The offender may also be required to complete 150 hours of community service.
  3. Third offense: Imprisonment minimum of 1 year, with a fine of no less than $2,500. The third offense is a second-degree misdemeanor and the offender may also be required to complete 150 hours of community service as well as attend a victim panel.

At first, these punishments may seem reasonable, but they are being imposed on medical cannabis patients who may be completely sober without any evidence of driving while intoxicated. Additionally, you cannot refuse a blood test in PA without facing repercussions. You may technically refuse a blood test, but doing so will result in an 18-month suspension of your license. This means that even if you contest the DUI charge, you won’t be able to legally drive for 18 months.

This is unacceptable. As conditions stand, the state seems content with facilitating a medical cannabis program while simultaneously criminalizing its patients and profiting off of any DUIs issued to cannabis patients. This situation requires a fix as soon as possible through the enactment of new legislation. Such legislation should prioritize patient protection by mandating that law enforcement must prove intoxication to issue a DUI.

Pennsylvania State Bill 363

This state bill has been circulating through the PA House and Senate for the last few years in one form or another. This year, with a few Republican sponsors, the bill has a better chance of passing than ever before.

This bill would be a step in the right direction of protecting the over 800,000 registered patients in Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program. Simply, the bill would end the “zero tolerance” policy for cannabis users and require law enforcement to prove impairment to issue a DUI.

This proposed bill would effectively recognize that responsible cannabis use should never result in a conviction. Currently, the state is profiting from incarcerating citizens who are adhering to the letter of the law to the best of their ability, and that is inherently wrong.


The use of cannabis benefits over 800,000 Pennsylvanians every day and should never result in legal trouble or a conviction. Patients have faced DUIs for responsibly using their medicine since the Medical Marijuana Act was passed in 2016. Meanwhile, the state and law enforcement laughed while they threw patients in jail and counted their profits. This bill has not passed yet, so be careful driving, call your congressman, and continue advocating until this bill passes.

marijuana minutepoliticsindustryhumanity

About the Creator

Adam Phillips

I am a cannabis industry professional currently working in a medical dispensary. My passion is to educate people on how to use cannabis and other natural remedies to improve their quality of life.

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