Nearly a million people in Pennsylvania have medical cannabis cards to treat serious medical conditions, such as anxiety, glaucoma, cancer, or chronic pain. The range of eligible conditions might seem broad, but an approved physician has evaluated and certified these Pennsylvania residents. They are registered medical marijuana patients and must show an ID to obtain legal medical marijuana at dispensaries across the state.

Your Medical Cannabis Card Shouldn’t Be Evidence of Impaired Driving

Even if you separate the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the process for medical cannabis in PA seems straightforward. However, using a state ID to identify valid patients can raise legal questions about when someone’s status as a medical cannabis user is appropriate.

One question is whether police can use a driver’s medical marijuana card, status, or admission of medicinal cannabis use as evidence of impairment during a DUI stop.

Medical Cannabis Cards & Pennsylvania DUIs

Using medical cards as evidence in a DUI is at the heart of a recent case out of Harrisburg. Here, a medical marijuana patient presented her cannabis ID after a car accident and found herself charged, despite asserting that she wasn’t under the influence of anything.

The woman handed the state trooper the first picture ID she found. Her confusion is understandable: a Pennsylvania cannabis ID looks like a license. It can be hard to tell the difference, especially in the frenzied aftermath of a car crash.

The trooper considered this lapse an indication of impairment and arrested her for DUI.

It’s Always Illegal to Drive High

No one is advocating for lenient laws for impaired driving, and having a medical marijuana card does not give an individual the right to drive stoned. But these are legal medications under Pennsylvania law.

If a police officer saw you had a prescription for valium in your possession as you were looking for your license, should it be used against you? Most people would say no. Just because you have a medication does not mean you are under its effects now.

Isn’t That What DUI Tests Are For?

Some argue that a DUI test should have confirmed whether the Harrisburg woman was under the influence. And it’s true that if a police officer has reasonable suspicion that you are impaired, they can request a field sobriety test or a blood or urine test. However, when it comes to marijuana, testing gets complicated.

The active ingredient in marijuana is THC, and its metabolites (byproducts of it breaking down) can remain in the body for several weeks. Additionally, individuals who use cannabis regularly, like those with chronic conditions, may have a tolerance. As a result, they may not experience the same level of impairment as an infrequent user.

Therefore, a person could have legally used medical cannabis weeks before driving. Still, if the police can show probable cause the person was impaired, a drug test may detect THC. With a million patients using medical marijuana, someone can conceivably be arrested and ultimately convicted, despite being completely sober.

Medical Cannabis Cards as DUI Evidence in PA

Like how field sobriety results should be used with other evidence, the presence of a medical marijuana card should not be evidence on its own. A police officer should have additional evidence of impairment, such as erratic driving, the smell of marijuana, glassy eyes, or other physical evidence to justify a DUI arrest.

Critics suggest that using cannabis cards as evidence of impairment is necessary for public safety. They contend that driving while under the influence of cannabis can be just as dangerous as driving drunk and that law enforcement needs every tool available.

That sounds noble since everyone wants to reduce impaired driving. However, what these outdated laws really do is unfairly target one group, rendering hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis users unable to legally drive a vehicle. In addition, penalizing medical choices may deter others from seeking treatment for conditions that could be effectively managed with cannabis.

Medical Marijuana DUIs Are Still Serious

If you or a loved one are charged with a DUI involving lawfully obtained medical marijuana, it’s easy to think the issue will resolve itself. After all, you weren’t doing anything wrong. But things are rarely that simple.

A pending DUI can still complicate your life even if you avoid a conviction that may include jail time and probation. Aside from the expense and hassle of fighting a DUI, your license will probably be suspended. You may also have to explain your arrest and medical marijuana use to an employer.

Senate Bill 363 May Change Things

Since Pennsylvania made medical marijuana legal in 2016, the law has been updated to protect employees, professional licenses, and those pursuing child custody. But the current law does not address the issue of potentially wrongful DUI convictions.

That’s where Senator Bartolotta’s Senate Bill 363 comes in. SB 363 was introduced with bi-partisan support and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) endorsement. The bill aims to correct this oversight.

No one should be arrested for legal cannabis use. If passed, it would amend the code law and treat medical cannabis patients the same as patients using a prescription medication by requiring proof of impairment as the basis for a DUI conviction.

Legal Help for Medical Marijuana Patients Charged with a DUI

There’s no doubt the current law violates a legitimate medical cannabis user’s rights and privacy, and it looks like the wheels are turning toward a solution. However, that’s of little comfort if you’re arrested for a DUI despite lawfully using a heavily regulated and taxed medication.

If you or a loved one are charged with DUI and your status as a medical cannabis patient is being used as evidence of your impairment, it is essential to protect yourself. A defense lawyer can evaluate all the evidence against you, including any field sobriety tests, blood tests, or other evidence, and determine any weaknesses or inaccuracies that can be used to defend you.

Contact a Marijuana DUI Lawyer at Fienman Defense

For a free and confidential case evaluation after a marijuana-related DUI, contact Fienman at (215) 839-9529. We’ll discuss what happened and explain all your legal options.

Attorney Michael H. Fienman represents clients in criminal and traffic matters across Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, and Chester counties. Mr. Fienman has completed the same DWI detection training as most law enforcement officers and holds a Standardized Field Sobriety Testing certificate approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As an experienced trial attorney, he is a zealous advocate known for relentlessly defending clients in state court, federal court, and before administrative agencies.

Attorney Fienman is licensed to practice before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, and the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

View All Blogs