Soteria Screening


Just Because Marijuana is Legal in CA Doesn't Mean You're Allowed to Drive While High

California is still in the process of trying to figure out the appropriate protocol for testing drivers' blood so as to determine what the legal limit should be in order to measure someone's impairment while driving after smoking or consuming a cannabis product. Alex Traverso, a spokesman for California's Bureau of Cannabis Control, said state officials are conducting monthly meetings with law enforcement agencies, the CHP and the Traffic Safety Office to discuss reforms.

UC-San Diego has also been conducting a study on the effects of cannabis on a person's motor skills, and Shawn Ahearn, a captain at the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety, notes that there are companies out there who are presently working on developing tests that could provide accurate measurements of cannabis impairment while driving.

However, while this process continues to be honed, that does not mean that there aren't already practices in place for law enforcement to use when pulling over someone who may be high – even if those methods are, for now, inconclusive and left up to the officer's discretion insofar as whether or not they are employed. Gary Berg, a captain with the Campbell Police Department, says officers are to treat marijuana as they would alcohol or any other "controlled substance."

Sgt. Rich Glennon of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that his office does the same. Says Glennon: “The challenge for law enforcement is that a lot of it is going to be based on initial driving indicator tests and then field sobriety tests. But there is no kind of concrete scientific way to measure it.”

According to Patrick Vanier, a supervising deputy district attorney with the narcotics prosecution team at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, individuals are allowed to carry marijuana products in their car, so long as those products are sealed and do not exceed the law's weight limitations. However, driving while smoking those products is prohibited.

Those who choose to smoke or consume marijuana in Santa Clara County are to do so indoors. Smoking is not allowed in public areas, or in places where there exists a preexisting ban on cigarette smoking, per Vanier. Such activity is also prohibited within 50 feet of government buildings, as well as within 1,000 feet of schools or daycare centers while school is in session. If one is discovered to be smoking in public, then he or she may be levied with a $100 fine, which can max out at a $250 fine for smoking in areas where tobacco has already been banned.

If the smoker is underage, then he will receive a sentence of six to eight hours of community service, along with mandatory attendance at a drug awareness class. The legalization of marijuana has, of course, called for prosecutors to change their methods in handling cases involving the drug. For one thing, retroactive changes may reduce felony convictions to misdemeanors, and misdemeanors to infractions.