“Zero-Tolerance” Driving Under The Influence of Drugs Law Proposed

Medical_MarijuanaIn the interest of clarifying California’s law regarding the crime of driving under the influence of drugs, a senator from Santa Ana has proposed a “zero tolerance” standard. If the bill passes, a person driving under the influence of drugs (with any amount of drugs in his/her system) could be convicted of DUI. The bill has drawn the support of police chiefs, but opposition from medical marijuana advocates.

State Sen. Lou Correa proposed a bill last month designed to make it simpler for law enforcement and prosecutors to pursue drivers operating under the influence of drugs other than alcohol. Senate Bill 289 would criminalize driving if the driver had any detectable amount of drugs in his/her system. The bill defines a “drug,” for purposes of this crime, as any substance included in Schedule I, II, III or IV of the California Uniform Controlled Substance Act.

Driving Under The Influence

Correa extolled the bill as a positive measure for highway safety. “If you have drugs in your system, you should not be on the road,” the senator proclaimed in a news release. At a press conference to announce the introduction of the bill, Correa also stated that the public should “send a clear message that any level of being drugged is dangerous when driving, so the level should be zero.”

Marijuana Impaired Drivers

Supporters say that, under the new law, police would only target erratic drivers. California Highway Patrol Officers say that marijuana-impaired drivers drive similarly to drunk drivers. The bill has the support of the California Narcotic Officers Association and the California Police Chiefs Association.

The law would include, not only illegal drugs, but legal ones as well, if the driver lacked a prescription for that drug in his/her own name. Correa’s press secretary, Damon Conklin, tried to reassure some nervous constituencies. “If a person has a prescription, they would not be captured under SB 289,” Conklin told KNBC TV. Conklin further explained that the law would also exclude medical marijuana users.

Medical marijuana supporters remained skeptical, traveling Correa’s office to express opposition. “We don’t want to see drugged driving either, but we don’t want to see every patient in the state targeted,” Lanette Davies, of Crusaders for Patients Rights, told the Sacramento Bee.  Legal marijuana grower Kevin Saunders told KCOY TV that “someone who has a medical marijuana card that would smoke a joint on the weekend, and on Tuesday be over that threshold, maybe while they are driving, they reach down for something, they swerve and get pulled over. Do we want that person charged with a DUI?” Sanders also explained that marijuana can stay in a user’s blood for weeks, even months, meaning that Correa’s bill raised the specter of punishing drivers who are not impaired.

Just as addressing the issues of drunk drivers and texting (or other distracted) drivers are important, so is the matter of ensuring travelers are safe from drugged drivers. Laws should not, however, become so overzealous that they cast a net over citizens engaged in legal activity, such as using medical marijuana. If you are facing a DUI charge, whether for drugged or drunk driving, contact an experienced Sonoma County DUI attorney. Our hardworking Santa Rosa and Petaluma DUI attorneys have years of experience handling the full range of DUI cases.


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