Can a Person be Convicted of Florida DUI for Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana?

With the legalization of marijuana for medical use in Florida, DUI arrests related to marijuana are on the rise.  If you have been accused of driving under the influence of marijuana, here are some things that you need to know.  

Can Marijuana use lead to a DUI in Tampa, Florida?

Marijuana use before or during driving can lead to a DUI.

Yes.  When most people think of DUI, what comes to their minds is drinking alcohol and driving. However, DUI, which stands for driving under the influence, does not just apply to alcohol.  Rather, it applies to driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances, including marijuana.    

How does a Tampa DUI prosecutor prove a person drove under the influence of marijuana?  

To prove the offense of driving under the influence of marijuana, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person drove a vehicle (or that a person was in in actual physical control of a vehicle) and that the person was under the influence of marijuana to the extent that his or her normal faculties were impaired. 

What are normal faculties? 

Normal faculties include the ability to see, hear, walk, talk, judge distances, drive an automobile, make judgments, act in emergencies and, in general, to normally perform the many mental and physical acts of our daily lives.  

What does it mean to be impaired?

Impaired means diminished in some material respect.  

What is actual physical control of a vehicle?  

Actual physical control of a vehicle means the defendant must be physically in a vehicle (or in the case of a motorcycle on a vehicle) and have the capability to operate it.

What is a DUI investigator?

Typically, the Tampa Police Officer or Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Deputy that stops a driver on the road is not the one who will conduct the DUI investigation.  

That’s because DUI investigations are complex, and they require the law enforcement officers that conduct them to have specialized training and experience.  

Therefore, when an officer or deputy conducts a vehicle stop for a traffic infraction and then becomes suspicious that the driver may under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they will call in a specialized law enforcement officer called a DUI investigator.   

What facts may lead a DUI Investigator to suspect that a person is driving under the influence of marijuana?

DUI Checkpoint
If police smell cannabis coming from a vehicle during a DUI checkpoint, it could lead them to investigate the driver for DUI.

There are all sorts of things that might lead a Tampa DUI investigator to suspect that a person was driving under the influence of marijuana.  Below are are just a few possibilities:  

Difficulty judging distances:  impaired perception of distance could be an indicator of marijuana use.  Therefore, if a driver stops his car too far ahead of a stop sign, or too far beyond a stop sign, a DUI investigator might suspect the driver is impaired.  

Impaired perception of time: not being able to judge the passage of time can be an indictor or marijuana use.  So, a DUI investigator may tell a person suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana to close their eyes and estimate the passage of 30 seconds.  If the person tells the officer that 30 seconds has passed when in reality three minutes has passed, then the DUI investigator might suspect the driver is impaired by marijuana.  

Smell of cannabis emanating from a driver or car:  cannabis has a very strong and distinctive smell.  If the driver or car smells of cannabis, a DUI investigator may suspect that the driver was driving under influence of marijuana. 

The officer sees cannabis in the car or finds it on the driver:  if the officer finds cannabis in the car or on the driver, that’s one factor that may lead the officer to believe that the driver is under the influence of marijuana.  

Physiological markers for marijuana: a quick pulse, sweating, dilated pupils (in all light conditions), bloodshot eyes, eyelid tremors when eyes are closed, and body tremors can lead a DUI investigator to suspect that the driver was driving under influence of marijuana.

When can a Tampa DUI investigator ask a suspect to provide a urine sample so that law enforcement can test the person’s urine for the presence of marijuana?

According to Florida Statute 316.1932, before a Tampa DUI investigator can ask a DUI suspect to provide a urine sample to test for the presence of marijuana, the DUI investigator must have reasonable cause to believe that the DUI suspect was driving (or was in actual physical control) of a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.  If a DUI suspect provides a breath alcohol sample and the results are less than .08, DUI investigators often ask the DUI suspect to provide a urine sample to test for marijuana and other drugs.   

If a DUI suspect provides a urine sample and the sample tests positive for the presence of marijuana, does that prove that the DUI suspect is guilty of DUI?

No.  Urine tests for DUI in Tampa are of limited value to police in proving DUI. While DUI urine tests may show the presence of a drug, they don’t indicate when the person took the drug or if the person was still under the influence of the drug at the time the sample was provided. For example, marijuana can be present in a person’s urine for weeks after smoking, but the effects of marijuana only last a few hours.

Does a Florida DUI based on marijuana use lead to the suspension and/or revocation of a Florida driver’s license?  

It depends.

First, it’s important to understand the difference between a suspended driver’s license and a revoked driver’s license.  When a person’s Florida driver’s license is suspended, they still have a license, but they are not allowed to use it.  Basically, there license is temporarily out of service – when a specified time passes, or if the suspension is due to unpaid fees when those fees are paid, the license will become active again automatically.  When a person’s Florida driver’s license is revoked, that means the license will not become active again automatically.  In other words, the person will have to re-apply for a new Florida driver’s license in order to get their driving privilege back.  

If a DUI investigator asks a driver to submit to a urine test to check for the presence of marijuana, and the person refuses to provide a urine sample, then the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will suspend that person’s driver’s license for one year.  So, that person’s driver’s license will be out of service for twelve months (unless they apply for business purpose only license, which in some cases may be available immediately).  

If a person pleads guilty to a first time DUI, regardless of whether the impairment was due to alcohol or marijuana, in addition to the other penalties for a first time Florida DUI, the judge will revoke the person driver’s license for six months.  However, even in this case, an experienced DUI attorney can help you to continue to drive using a for business purpose only license.  

Have you been arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana in Tampa, Florida?

Tampa Attorney David C. Hardy is a former DUI prosecutor that now represents persons accused of DUI. He is Board Certified by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocacy as an Expert in Criminal Trial Law. As a prosecutor and defense attorney, he has extensive experience handling all types of DUI cases.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for DUI in Hillsborough County Florida, Pinellas County Florida, or Pasco County Florida, contact Attorney David C. Hardy. He has the knowledge, skills, and experience to guide you through this process and obtain the best possible results.

Posted in Florida DUI Defense