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Can Medical Marijuana Users Face DUI Charges?

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On April 17, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program into law. This made it legal for residents with one of 17 major medical conditions to use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms.  While the law may recognize marijuana use under these circumstances as legal, what does this mean for patients who are caught driving under the influence, or even cause Pennsylvania car accidents while under the influence of medical marijuana?

During August 2017, Daily Local News reported that the recent legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania leaves many unanswered questions about legal ramifications for those who choose to use prescription marijuana. One of the many areas in question is the laws regarding driving under the influence.

According to the article, motorists who have a legal prescription for marijuana can still face DUI charges if their blood tests positive for Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a chemical found in marijuana. However, many experts believe that PA lawmakers should amend the current DUI laws to reflect the change.

Ryan Sarkowski, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police explained to Daily Local that the classification of medical marijuana must change before the DUI laws to change. “Medical marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance in Pennsylvania,” said Sarkowski.  “It’s going to stay that way until the federal Drug Enforcement Agency changes the classification. So that means that there is no acceptable amount of THC in somebody’s blood. Somebody could be arrested and charged with DUI for any amount of THC in the blood.” The decision whether to prosecute someone with THC in their blood because of medical marijuana use would rest with the district attorney.

Criminal defense attorney Adam Sager offered some tips to Daily Local to help patients treating with medical marijuana avoid criminal prosecution. He suggests that if a person can show they have a valid prescription, that could be considered an exception to the law. The best way to do this is to carry a copy of the prescription at all times. If not, patients should have this copy with them at the court hearing.  Sager also warns not to use more than the prescribed limit. If a blood test shows a higher amount of THC in the blood than is prescribed, this could result in DUI charges.

Pennsylvania Senator Andy Dinniman, told Daily Local that that now that medical marijuana is a prescription drug, it needs to be treated the same way, which includes putting warning labels on products.

Joe Grace, a spokesman from the Attorney General’s Office told Daily Local that “While alcohol, prescription medications and medical use of marijuana can be legal, driving with these substances in your system puts lives at risk and is against the law.” He suggested that if someone is driving impaired, they are putting themselves at risk of causing a Pennsylvania car accident and endangering the lives of others, and can be charged with a DUI.

Some may view amending PA DUI laws to accommodate users of medical marijuana as a double-edged sword: On one hand,  the state should protect those who are treating medical conditions within the limits of the law, but at the same time protect others from Pennsylvania car accidents cause by those under the influence.

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