Joseph P. Hougnon, Attorney at Law

Understanding the New Laws About Marijuana and Driving


After years of debate, in January 2018, marijuana became legal in California. The change in the law raised several questions about where and how a person could use marijuana legally. Some people erroneously believe that there are no restrictions, which is wrong. Use is still regulated to certain places and conditions.

One of the biggest questions to arise from legalization was how marijuana would be viewed in the context of operating a motor vehicle. The bottom line is that marijuana is still considered a drug, and that smoking a joint while driving or as a passenger is still illegal and could land you in plenty of legal problems. The law also extends to cannabis edibles as well. Marijuana is being treated much like alcohol in that when it is being transported in a vehicle, it must be sealed in a container with an unbroken seal. If it is in an open container, it must be locked in a place that is not accessible to the driving compartment, such as in a trunk.

The Differences Between an Alcohol DUI Charge and a Marijuana DUI Charge

One of the biggest challenges facing the legal community and law enforcement officials is how to enforce DUI laws and apply them properly when marijuana is involved. Of course, it’s true that marijuana can impair driving, giving law enforcement officials reason to charge someone with a marijuana DUI charge in Sacramento.

However, there are also some notable differences between how marijuana affects a person and how alcohol affects a person as it relates to operating a vehicle.

First and foremost, those who use marijuana on a regular basis will have a tolerance for the drug and are less likely to be impaired hours after using marijuana than after drinking alcohol. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, also stays in your system for up to 30 days after you smoke a joint, meaning that a blood test could reveal levels long after the effects have come and gone. With alcohol, impairment and testing lasts for a much shorter period of time.

Unless there is significant visual evidence observed by a law enforcement officer, you have a much stronger and defensible case if you are facing marijuana DUI charges. For these reasons, it is less likely a defense attorney will accept a plea bargain. In marijuana DUI cases, it is also more likely that a prosecutor will file a “Wet Reckless” charge, with fines about half of those of a DUI conviction, unless alcohol or other drugs are combined with the use of marijuana while operating a vehicle.

Joseph P. Hougnon serves clients in Sacramento and other nearby northern California communities.

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About the Author

Since 1996, Joe Hougnon, Esq. has provided the best legal services for DUI, Criminal charges & personal injury cases in northern California.