The Los Angeles DUI Law Blog

Is it Actually Illegal to Smoke Marijuana While Driving in California?

California is an oddly progressive state. Marijuana is decriminalized in this fine state, and our drunk driving laws are more "loose" when it comes to the use of marijuana than other states. Being that it is technically not a criminal offense to possess small amounts of marijuana, and that our drugged driving laws are more tolerant of amounts of weed that do not impair driving, is toking while driving illegal?

The question is important, not only to the average cannabis user, but to our current celebrity stalkee, Amanda Bynes. We won't rehash her exploits in detail, in large part because carpal tunnel really sucks, but earlier this week, she was caught by TMZ apparently smoking out of a "drug pipe" in her car. She then drove around aimlessly for hours and smoked again. The paparazzi-stalkers waited until she left her car and then took pictures of what is thought to be marijuana sitting in the cup holders.

In many states, the mere presence of any marijuana metabolites, whether days or minutes old, would suffice for a DUI. In California, the use of marijuana has to be to an extent that it impairs one’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. In addition, possession without intoxication is only a $100 ticket, unless, of course, it’s medical. Note that a legal prescription is not a defense to drugged driving, just as a prescription for Vicodin or other pain killers would not help if you were operating a vehicle while impaired by those substances.

Does that mean you should toke and drive? Obviously not. You shouldn’t have one beer and drive either. Weed (and alcohol) affect your decision making and ability to clearly perceive how impaired you really are. And when it comes time to decide whether you are “dangerous,” the officer makes the initial determination. And he’s much less forgiving than you are.

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