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New to the Bay Area: Zero Tolerance for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs


Interviewer: What about our new laws that are being proposed that will affect the counties that you practice in? Are there any new rules that are noteworthy coming up?

Aaron: The one law that I was talking about earlier, which was the zero-tolerance for driving under the influence of drugs when it’s not a legally prescribed drug. Or even if it is a legally prescribed drug, if you’re over the allowed amount, they will also pursue criminal charges.

Attorney Bortel Has Encountered This Zero Tolerance Policy Even Prior to the Law Taking Effect

Even though they say that if someone has a prescription they’re not going to go after them, I don’t buy that for a second. I have seen, even without this new law that’s proposed, counties go after, or DA’s offices go after, my clients who had a legal prescription in their system. The DA’s office says that their driving showed that they were unable to maintain their vehicle properly because of that. And to hear them say, “Well, we’re not going to go after anyone who has a legal prescription for the drug they’re on,” I don’t believe that for a second and no one else should, either.

Attorney Bortel Sees This Policy Affecting Medical Marijuana Users

So, this is what I can see happening. There are two groups that will be affected the most severely by this. The number one group would be those who smoke medical marijuana, with or without a medical marijuana card, in California. Marijuana can stay in the system for months and almost certainly stays in the system for days or weeks.

Marijuana Metabolites Are a Lingering Presence in Your System

Now, if you smoked in the morning and you’re driving in the evening, there will be marijuana in your system. You will be completely sober to drive. The marijuana will not be affecting you. But, you will be DUI. You will be considered “driving under the influence of drugs” and you are looking at all of the penalties for a DUI if you get convicted. And these are very hard cases to fight.

Is it Possible to Determine What Level of Metabolites Cause Impairment?

Interviewer: What are the levels, though? I mean, I don’t know if they’ve correlated this, but with marijuana, if you smoke on a Monday and drive on a Friday will you probably still have maybe enough metabolites to be over their limit?

Aaron: It’s very hard to determine what the metabolite level is as it affects different people. And so what’s going on here is the testing for marijuana. It’s not at the level of sophistication where it needs to be, and I don’t think it will ever be there.

It’s basically just a way to get people to stop smoking marijuana if they want to drive or run the risk of criminal charges. It’s a way to raise more money for the state by getting more driving under the influence convictions, due to marijuana.

Unlike Alcohol, There Is No Established Medically Proven Method to Determine Your Absorption of Marijuana

Interviewer: Is there a chart that will tell you, such as with alcohol that if you had ‘x’ beers and you wait long enough you’ll be OK. But with marijuana, is there any kind of chart that tells you if you smoke ‘x’ amount and you wait a certain amount of days that you’ll be safe?

Aaron: No. There is no specific chart. There is no specific way to know. With alcohol, you can buy a breath machine and blow into it to see what your alcohol level is hours after driving. Once you’ve probably fully absorbed after approximately two or three hours, you can test yourself and have an idea of what level is present in your system.

By Aaron Bortel

Aaron Bortel

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