Think DUIs Only Involve Alcohol ~ Think Again!

Updated: Jan 31

What You Need to Know about Marijuana and Other “Drugged Driving” Offenses


When most people think of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), alcohol is usually what comes to mind. However, with the unfortunate increase in opioid addiction and the unprecedented changes to marijuana laws at both the State and Federal level, a DUI charge can routinely involve any number of controlled substances.


At Sheeley Law, we receive numerous calls from individuals who have been charged with a DUI/OUI that had nothing to do with alcohol, and therefore, we are here to educate you on the latest drug-impaired driving laws as it related to Marijuana, specifically, and how you can make smarter choices to drive safely.

Rhode Island has a zero tolerance "drugged driving" law

What Are Rhode Island’s Marijuana Laws?


The state of Rhode Island has both decriminalized marijuana and legalized its medicinal use. Drivers, however, must still understand they can be charged with a marijuana DUI, or sometimes referred to as “drugged driving,” which is not nearly as clear-cut as an alcohol DUI.


Rhode Island has a zero tolerance drugged driving law enacted for cannabis and other controlled substances. Under the eyes of the law, a person can be found guilty of a DUI if he or she drives while under the influence of drugs, or any controlled substance for that matter, as determined with a tested positive blood or urine sample. Id. § 31-27-2(b). It is also illegal to possess marijuana while operating a vehicle. However, there is an exception for medical marijuana patients. If you are registered with the State as a medicinal patient, then the court cannot prosecute you.


Under the State’s zero tolerance law, it is important for drivers to know that there is no “safe zone” while driving under the influence of marijuana like there is with alcohol. For example, if your blood alcohol content is lower than 0.08%, you will not be charged with a DUI. That is not the case for recreational marijuana users. If a chemical test reveals any trace of the substance and the personal is not a registered medical marijuana patient, the driver will be charged with a marijuana DUI.


How Can The Police Prove I was Under the Influence of Marijuana at the Time of Being Arrested?


This is where it gets sticky. It is very difficult to determine the effects marijuana has had on one’s driving abilities at the precise time of being pulled over. Alcohol is water soluble, making it easy to measure and determine its effect on drivers through a breathalyzer or chemical test. Marijuana, however, is fat soluble, and therefore, the amount of time it takes to leave one’s body varies significantly from person to person. For instance, THC will stay in a regular user’s system much longer than someone who only uses it on occasion. Age, body fat percentage and even gender can also have an impact on one’s THC metabolite levels.


Another challenge facing police officers today is that there is no standard roadside testing they can perform to determine one’s level of impairment. Police must rely on their observations and judgment as to whether or not a driver is under the influence and, without a chemical or urine test, their accusations may or may not hold up in court.

What are the Penalties for Refusal or Conviction of a Marijuana DUI?


Punishments for marijuana DUIs vary drastically. With alcohol DUIs, you can refuse a chemical test. Typically, the first time being charged with a refusal will result in a fine ranging from $200 to $500, 10 to 60 hours of community service, and the person's driving license shall be suspended for a period of six months to one year. Id. § 31-27-2.1(b)(1). The penalties increase with multiple offenses.


If a recreational user (anyone who does not have a medicinal medical marijuana card issued by the state) fails the chemical test, a first time offense can carry up to a $500 fine, 20 to 60 hours of community service, one year of jail time, and a suspended driver’s license for three to 18 months. The judge may also require the offender to attend a course on driving under the influence of a controlled substance. A second offense is subject to a $1,000 fine, six months to one year of jail time, and a suspended driver’s license for two years. Third-time offenders of the marijuana DUI laws are subject to a fine of $1,000 to $5,000, three to five years of jail time, and a suspended driver’s license for three years after completion of the prison sentence.


What Should You Do If You Are Charged with a Marijuana DUI?


Marijuana is a complex issue that will continue to evolve legally as our country navigates uncharted waters. If you’ve been charged with a DUI or “drugged driving”, without an experienced lawyer it can be difficult to understand your rights and develop a solid defense strategy. Since this is new territory, there are more ways for lawyers to fight the charges.


Sheeley Law understands the criminal justice system and what is at stake for our clients. Rhode Island Criminal Defense Attorney Ann Sheeley carefully prepares each case, looking for factual issues or flaws in the prosecutor’s case that could lead to a positive outcome because RESULTS MATTER.


If you or a loved one were arrested for a DUI/OUI, contact Ann Sheeley at 401-619-5555 or email asheeley@sheeleylaw.com.


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