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Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs

You may already be aware that .08 is the legal blood alcohol content limit throughout the country for driving drunk but, as marijuana is being legalized in more and more states, you may be wondering if there is an equivalent legal limit for driving while high. The Washington Post reports that, although at least 20 states—including New York—have instituted laws regarding Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs (DWAI: Drugs), it is actually very difficult to determine whether someone who has been using marijuana is too impaired to drive. Read more to find out what makes this determination so difficult, what the penalties are for DWAI: Drugs, and how a DWI attorney may be able to help.


Hard to determine relationship between marijuana use and impairment

According to the Washington Post, new research shows that blood tests are largely ineffective at determining whether or not someone under the influence of marijuana is too high to drive. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) says this is because it is hard to link the amount of THC (the chemical that causes the high) found in a person’s blood to how impaired that person actually is. There are several variables, such as how often a person uses marijuana, the amount the person used, and how much time went by before they started driving, that make determining the relationship between THC blood concentration and impairment almost impossible.

Different state laws regarding marijuana use

Since 1996, 23 states—including New York—have made medical marijuana legal and 4 states have made recreational marijuana legal. The Washington Post reports that at least 20 states have laws enacted that restrict marijuana use by drivers. In New York and 11 other states, any use of marijuana before operating a motor vehicle is illegal. In some other states, there is a legal limit of THC blood concentration that is similar to the .08 legal limit for DWI. In these states, any driver who tests above that blood concentration is subject to a DUI conviction. This contradicts a report by researchers at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which indicates that there is no blood concentration that is a true sign of whether or not someone who has used marijuana is not fit to drive. Jake Nelson, AAA’s Director of Traffic Safety and Advocacy, said, “There is no reliable number that has any meaningful value in terms of predicting impairment.”

DWAI: Drugs penalties in New York State

Rather than setting a legal limit, the AAA Foundation suggests that police departments put certain officers through a training course in order to certify them as drug recognition experts (DRE). Then, if a police officer suspects a driver of using marijuana, a DRE can conduct the appropriate tests to confirm that suspicion. If this happens to you in New York State and you are facing a first-time DWAI: Drugs conviction, you could be sentenced to a fine of between $500 and $1,000, up to 1 year in jail, or both. You may also have your driver’s license suspended for up to 6 months. If it is your second conviction in 10 years, you could be facing a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000 and up to 4 years in jail. Your driver’s license could also be suspended for up to a year. The judge could also require you to do up to 30 days of community service, as well as attend a substance abuse treatment or education program. If you are convicted 3 or more times within 10 years, your fine could be between $2,000 and $10,000 and you could be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison. In addition, your driver’s license could be suspended for a year. The DMV may also impose additional license penalties.

What to do

If you have been charged with DWAI: Drugs, or have other DWI-related concerns, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria. The firm’s DWI attorneys are dedicated to providing you with the best defense possible. They are able to accurately assess your rights, what possible penalties you may be facing, and any weaknesses in the charges against you in order to give you the defense you deserve.


This article does not purport to give legal advice and is for informational purposes only.

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