Driving While High Laws in San Diego & Marijuana DUI | Lajolla.com

Driving While High Laws in San Diego Explained

This post is part of our Best Dispensary in San Diego series, sponsored by Cannabist.

Common sense asserts that driving while under the influence of marijuana is not only risky and looked down upon, but also prohibited. When operating heavy machinery on the road, there is already a high probability for human error, and adding a substance that causes visual impairment into the mix is just asking for a disaster to ensue. We are firm advocates for recreational and medical marijuana use, but there is a time and a place for consumption, and it is most certainly not before getting behind the wheel! 


Let’s go over why driving after consuming cannabis is unacceptable in San Diego, California, and what is at risk if you choose to put yourself and others in danger by doing so. 

Understanding Marijuana DUI in San Diego, California

Just like driving under the influence of alcohol is both illegal and dangerous, driving under the influence of marijuana is, too. The penalties and how to establish impairment might require different testing, but we can all agree that driving under the influence of either substance is a societal no-no and should be avoided at all costs.

If you’re curious to know more specifics about possession and usage laws–we go over all you need to know about San Diego weed laws in our sister article: Is Weed Legal in San Diego? However, if you’re more keen on marijuana laws as it pertains to DUI’s, this article is designed to help you understand what’s at stake if you decide to break the law and drive while high on marijuana. 

How to Establish Impairment for Cannabis DUI

One way for police to prove impairment is via driving conduct. There are several indicators of intoxication that a police officer can infer is a byproduct of cannabis consumption. If, say, a driver is veering into other lanes, slowing down or speeding up frequently, hitting their breaks or stopping abruptly, running stop signs or red lights, or stalling at stop signs or red lights, this can be used as evidence of impairment. 

Once pulled over, a police officer can look for other signs of impairment by observing the driver’s behavior–examining everything from body language, communication style, to physical appearance. Bloodshot red or watery eyes, dilated pupils, nervous or jittery demeanor, or reeking of a potent, skunky odor can be dead giveaways. Even the mouth movements, speech, and eye movements can all be used as evidence. If the person operating the vehicle is swallowing often, they might be experiencing dryness of the throat or cottonmouth–a major indicator of having just smoked marijuana.

Cannabis impairment can also be defined by other means, for example if a window is cracked slightly–perhaps to air out the smell of marijuana in a car. Needless to say, there are lots of minor details and little clues that can help officers deduce if someone has been consuming marijuana.

Driving High Laws San Diego

This post is part of our Best Dispensary in San Diego series, sponsored by Cannabist.

How the State Can Prove Marijuana DUI Charge

In order to convict someone of a marijuana DUI, the evidence needed is a blood sample or urine sample after your arrest. You might receive penalties if you don’t do it, including hefty fines and license suspension, and mandatory imprisonment–this could be anywhere from a couple hours to a couple of weeks. A Marijuana DUI California charge can be proven if the chemical test comes back cannabinoid positive–showing that there is the presence of cannabinoid metabolites in your urine or blood. 

Which Tests Do You Need to Take if Suspected Driving Under the Influence?

Conducting a breath test works for determining alcohol content, but it does not work for cannabis consumption. Instead of giving a breath test to those suspected of being under the influence of marijuana, officers will typically enforce a blood test, urine test, or in rare circumstances a saliva swab test or hair test, though saliva tests are currently not admissible in court and only used by an officer to make inquiries. 

A chemical test–such as a blood test–which will show the THC concentration in the defendant’s blood sample. If the THC level is high, the blood test will be used as additional proof. Additionally, there is a marijuana field sobriety test that happens at the scene of the crime.

How Reliable are Chemical Tests for Marijuana DUI?

Unfortunately, chemical testing is a controversial method for determining intoxication at the scene of the crime. THC can stay in the blood for a considerable amount of time. You could have consumed marijuana a day, week, or even a month prior, yet marijuana metabolites might show up in your system and impact your blood sample results. Unfortunately Per se laws include metabolites accepting their presence as conclusive evidence for impairment, so despite the chemical test not always being accurate, other signs of impairment in combination with a positive test can help conviction.

This form of testing doesn’t indicate how much you ingested or smoked, or when the cannabis was consumed. As such, there really is no true consensus of how much marijuana is in your system that indicates you are too impaired to drive.

A urine test might be requested in some instances, though this is less reliable then blood tests as it does not check for the presence of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Instead, it checks for inactive metabolites such as THC carboxylic acid. Again, this is problematic because of how long it might remain in your body. 


Can a Driver Refuse to Take a Chemical Test for Cannabis DUI?

Should you refuse a chemical test, your license will automatically be suspended, and you’ll have ten days following your arrest to request a California DMV hearing to contest your license suspension. Failure to submit a chemical test will result in a fine, mandatory imprisonment in a local jail, and a license suspension. Officers must advise the driver of what is at risk if they refuse.  Per California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) VC, the license suspension period is dependent on how many times they’ve been convicted. You can face up to a year long driver suspension even if this is the first time you’ve been convicted. No matter whether you refuse or get tested–it will go on your record and reflect poorly on your reputation, so beware of the consequences.

Penalties for Driving While High in San Diego, CA

Penalties for driving while high in San Diego are contingent–based on your history of convictions and other influencing factors. Bottom line is, you will be punished in some capacity for driving while under the influence of cannabis, so why not keep everyone out of harm’s way and avoid it altogether? It is also important to note that medical marijuana patients who are under the influence of marijuana while driving won’t be excused for driving while impaired, should they be charged with a marijuana DUI.

Let’s discuss what happens when you are convicted of driving while high one time, more than once, or several times over.

Driving High Laws San Diego

First Conviction

If you are convicted of a first-time offense for a marijuana DUI, there are a few things you should expect. As stated above, you’ll spend anywhere from 96 hours to several months in a San Diego County Jail, and be fined up to $1000, which doesn’t include the costs you’ll have to pay in court if you try to fight the conviction. Depending on the severity of your impairment and the overall situation, you could have your driver’s license revoked or suspended for up to 6 months to a year.

Second Conviction

You’re not going to like this one, especially if you like your life the way it currently stands. A second offense–if given within 10 years of your first conviction–means a jail sentence of 90 days to an entire year. Your license will also be suspended for 2 years, and you’ll pay a minimum fine of around $400. That said, think of all the money you’ll be spending on ride-shares and public transit to get from point a to point b every day for 2 years while you don’t have your license. There is also a possibility of receiving probation, too. 

Third Conviction

Uh oh. Again?! If you face a third conviction of driving under the influence of marijuana, hold your breath to experience life behind a jail cell for as little as 120 days up to a year. Your fine will be anywhere from $490-1000 (or more), and you’ll have to take 30 months of DUI school. Your license will be revoked for 3 years, and it might be restricted beyond that, given the circumstances of the incident. If anyone is injured, you might be charged with a felony. 

Fourth and Following Convictions

Ok, really? Not one, not two, but a 4 time offense for a weed DUI in California is bad news bears. You could get an expensive lawyer to represent you to help you potentially avoid jail time, of course, but there is no guarantee. Be ready to shell out dough, and we mean a lot of it! If someone is injured during the incident, you might be charged with a felony and face additional jail time. Keep in mind that you will likely also have to participate in a victim impact program, house arrest, community service, a drug and alcohol abuse program, and other applicable penalties. Be ready to basically give up all of your free time for several years to deal with the consequences of a fourth conviction–not to mention, this doesn’t look good on your track record.

DUI Conviction Within 10 Years of Other Felonies

Forget county jail, you’re going to state prison–for anywhere from 16 months to 3 years. If there are injured parties involved, you’ll have to pay restitution, and participate in 18–30 months of DUI school. That license of yours? Wave goodbye to it for 4 plus years! 

If others involved in the incident have injuries if there was a collision or accident, your license will be revoked for 5 years. The fine you’re now facing is anywhere $1000-5000, on top of restitution costs, lawyers, etc. If there was an accident that killed or injured somebody, you could be charged with a felony, which will impact your ability to get a job, purchase a home, and much more.. Incarceration is no joke!

Does Cannabis Affect Driving Ability?

Of course, it does! When under the influence of alcohol, your coordination, vision, and mental clarity are impaired. When under the influence of THC, your reaction times are slowed or become more erratic, and your decision-making skills are weakened. As with booze, THC content and behavioral tolerance impact everyone differently. The severity of one’s impairment can’t be concluded based on simply stating how much you consumed. There is a risk associated with both! 

On a scientific level, the psychoactive component in THC–known as Delta 8–is what is responsible for affecting impairment, and you’ll notice diminished driving capabilities for several hours post-consumption of marijuana. Some sources state that this impairment can resolve by about 5 hours for most individuals, but to be certain, it is advised to wait at least 8 hours after consuming cannabis before operating a vehicle–bikes and skateboards included! Be safe and keep others out of harm’s way! 

How to Avoid a Marijuana DUI?

To avoid being charged with a Marijuana DUI in San Diego, wait 8 hours after consumption of marijuana before considering safely operating a vehicle. Be conscious of possession laws as they relate to marijuana, especially if planning to cross state borders, considering there are diverse marijuana laws and associated penalties by state. There are so many alternative options that can keep you and others out of harm’s way! Here is more information on San Diego marijuana laws to refresh your memory on what is considered legal, and what can get you in deep trouble.

We highly encourage you to opt for a ride-share after consuming cannabis, have a friend pick you up, or go for a walk if where you’re headed is close by. Know that there are many factors that may influence the possibility of being arrested, so when in doubt wait it out! 

Another not so obvious factor is weed grade and source. Purchasing bunk weed can also be a reason for unexpected impairments and lack of control while under the influence. It’s important to know who you’re purchasing from and whether they are a reliable source for reputable, high-quality products. Luckily, San Diego has an abundance of dispensaries to select from to help you achieve the high you are looking for-when you’re not operating a vehicle, of course. 

Best Dispensaries in San Diego

Whether you want delicious weed gummies from Urbn Leaf , a boutique cannabis shopping experience from Cannabist, or top-grade pre-rolls from Cookies, you’ll find all that you’re looking for in one of the countless dispensaries throughout San Diego that offer high-grade cannabis products in various forms. While we might be a bit biased, our favorite local weed supplier has got to be Cannabist in San Diego. We love their variety of fresh flower and edibles, inviting and knowledgeable staff, and their unbeatable specials and deals. Not to mention their place is stinkin’ cute!

Another unique part of Cannabist’s brand is its social activism and members’ rewards. They have cultivated a passionate cannabis community and make a valiant effort to promote social causes, including beach cleanups and yoga, where participants will be rewarded with weed goodies for their kind efforts to make the world a better place. If you’re looking for a place to score some top-notch bud and engage with experts in the weed space, Cannabist’s clean-cut, super stylin’ dispensary is worth checking out! Be sure to practice safe consumption and avoid driving after consuming their dank weed, as its potency will send you to the moon. 


The hero image in this article is courtesy of Gocannabist.com/location/san-diego/

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