Medical Marijuana and the Potential Risk of a DUI

By now, most people know that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has legalized the use of medical marijuana through the Medical Marijuana Act. However, even with this relatively new law, a variety of clients have been subject to criminal charges that stem from a relatively relaxed view of marijuana. This article is intended to try to prevent unnecessary criminal charges against clients by proactively discussing some major issues.

First, in this context, it is critical to review the Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws in Pennsylvania. The Motor Vehicle Code makes clear under 75 Pa.C.S.A. §3802(d) that it is unlawful for an individual to drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle when there is in the individual’s blood any amount of a Schedule I Controlled Substance or even a metabolite of a Schedule I Controlled Substance. In short, you can be convicted of DUI if you drive a vehicle while you have marijuana or a metabolite of marijuana in your blood.

It should be noted that the law, as it is written, does not distinguish between medical marijuana and someone illegally using marijuana under the DUI laws.  Therefore, you could be substantially at risk if you smoke or otherwise inhale marijuana and drive.

With this in mind, police officers are being trained to identify whether someone has used marijuana recently to the extent that it has impaired their ability to drive safely. This puts a lot of risk on the driver in hoping that the police officer does not begin to investigate them for DUI when pulled over. 

Through case law, the Pennsylvania Courts are slowly adapting to the practical problems many people now face. For example, during a traffic stop, the smell of marijuana alone, without anything more, does not permit the police to search your vehicle. Commonwealth v. Hicks, 208 A.3d 916 (Pa. 2019). However, the police officer can use the smell of marijuana together with other observations to conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle. Commonwealth v. Barr, 266 A.3d 25 (Pa. 2021).

Though one may possess a medical marijuana card, it is still illegal to drive with any amount of Schedule I controlled substance (marijuana included) in one’s blood. Commonwealth v. Dabney, 2022 PA Super 82, 274 A.3d 1283 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2022).

Some practical tips that we suggest are as follows:

  1. Refrain from smoking before you intend to drive.
  2. Never smoke in your vehicle under any circumstances.
  3. Transport medical marijuana in the trunk of your vehicle, rather than on your person or in the main compartments.

If you have been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana, it is vitally important that you are represented by competent counsel. If you have been charged with a DUI, reach out to one of our DUI defense attorneys at Lancaster Law Group today for a free consultation. We’ll review your case, provide you with legal advice, and prepare to defend you. 

DISCLAIMER – The information contained in this article is for general guidance on the subject matter only. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, and the inherent hazards of electronic communication, there may be delays, omissions or inaccuracies in information in this article. Case summaries are primarily excerpted directly from the decisions authored by the courts. The decisions are cited and linked and the reader is encouraged to read the entire decision. Accordingly, the information in this article is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not herein engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice and services. As such, it should NOT be used as a substitute for consultation with a Lancaster Law Group attorney about this or any other legal issue. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should always consult with a Lancaster Law Group attorney.