Colorado Marijuana DUI Laws

Colorado legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 2000 and for recreational use in 2012. Even though marijuana is legal, you can still get in trouble if you are caught driving under the influence. This has led to some confusion, especially because it can be so hard to measure marijuana in your body. Here is a brief overview of the criminal laws regarding marijuana DUI in Colorado — but if you have any questions, you should ask an experienced criminal defense attorney that handles marijuana DUI in Colorado

Possession of Marijuana in Colorado

Even though recreational marijuana is legal, strict limits are still in place. No person is allowed to possess more than two ounces of marijuana at one time. Possession of more is considered a “petty” offense, and you may only get a fine unless you have at least six ounces or more. Possession of 12 ounces or more is actually a felony, possibly punishable with a prison sentence. There are also still charges related to drug dealing, and only those 21 and older are allowed to possess and use recreational marijuana. 

In addition, it's prohibited to use marijuana in public places, and you could be fined for having an open container of marijuana in your vehicle. It is important for anyone who wants to safely use marijuana in Colorado to learn the rules. Even though marijuana use is legal, it is still highly regulated, and the state uses marijuana regulation to collect money for its own coffers.

Alcohol vs. Marijuana DUI

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has had very specific standards for officers to use in DUI investigations for many years. When officers learn how to investigate a case of possible intoxicated driving, they must learn to follow the guidelines. Officers learn how to give the field sobriety tests and how to administer a chemical test to check for alcohol. If they deviate from the standard, a good defense attorney can question the entire arrest. Marijuana is different because it stays in the body longer and users have different reactions when under the influence.

How High Is Too High?

Under state law, Colorado considers individuals intoxicated if they measure above the 5 nanogram legal limit. Unfortunately, measuring the current level of THC in someone's bloodstream may not be a good way to find out if they are actually intoxicated. It is easy to measure someone's level of blood alcohol content, and there are formulae that can be used to measure how quickly the alcohol will leave your system. Alcohol leaves your body relatively quickly, but marijuana may stay in your body for a long time, especially if you are a heavy user. 

Probable Cause

If you are a fan of court TV or police dramas, you have probably heard the term “probable cause” used a lot. One important thing your Colorado defense attorney will do when reviewing your case is making sure that the officer had probable cause to make a traffic stop in the first place. Most DUI charges start when an officer observes someone commit a moving violation, such as speeding, weaving in and out of a lane, running a stop sign, or another violation. The officer cannot require you to submit to a sobriety test unless you first show some sign of intoxication. 

Sometimes the traffic stop starts with an equipment violation or other nonmoving violation. Even then, the officer might be able to prove probable cause. If the driver has slurred speech, is confused, and/or has difficulty with simple tasks such as opening the glove box, the officer might suspect intoxication of one sort or another. The officer may use it against you if your car smells like marijuana. However, you may simply be someone who is nervous when you are the subject of a traffic stop.

Chemical Tests and Refusals

It may seem like a good idea to refuse a chemical test if you have used marijuana in the recent past. Like most states, Colorado has a law that anyone who is driving on a public road consents to being tested. If you refuse the test, you are presumed intoxicated and will automatically pay the consequences. Colorado police have two different kinds of tests that can detect marijuana: a blood test and a chemical test. The first effect will be a suspension of your driving privileges that lasts for an entire year.

Taking the test might seem riskier, but under the right circumstances and with the right legal advice, you may be able to get your license back in a few months even if you fail the test. Even if you are allowed to call an attorney on the scene, your attorney will probably advise you to go ahead and take the test so that the state does not get to use your refusal against you.

Penalties for a Marijuana DUI in Colorado

The possible penalties for drugged driving in Colorado are the same as for driving under the influence of alcohol and may depend on whether you have had other convictions for the same offense before. You may also be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on whether you have had other DUI cases and if anyone was injured as a result of your impaired driving. These may include:

  • jail time, especially if you have a prior conviction;
  • fines and court costs;
  • the loss of your driving privileges, which can get longer if you have prior convictions;
  • probation; and
  • paying for an interlock ignition device. 

You may also face increased auto insurance costs that can last for several years. The loss of your license may affect your family life and even your job prospects. Your attorney will work hard to help you avoid some of these penalties.

Medicinal Marijuana

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment keeps a registry of medical marijuana patients and providers. Over 86,000 patients are currently on the registry, most for symptoms of severe pain. Even if you have a prescription for medical marijuana, you are still not allowed to operate a motor vehicle while you are under the influence. Before medical marijuana was legalized, you could still get in trouble for taking prescription medicine and driving, if the drug impaired your driving. 

Speak with an Experienced, Skilled Attorney

The number of marijuana DUI arrests in Colorado is rising. According to the Colorado State Police, marijuana DUI arrests were up 48% last year. A lot of people are being brought into the criminal system that have never gotten into trouble before. The Colorado Department of Transportation collects data about drugged driving and works with local communities to provide education so that people understand more about driving safely.

If you or a loved one is facing a charge for driving under the influence, you should get legal advice from a skilled DUI attorney who understands the complexities of these kinds of cases. Whether you are charged with drugged driving or operating while intoxicated, the consequences can be serious. Once you are in the system, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. We understand how stressful it is, especially if you have not had a criminal case before. Contact our office today to speak with one of our aggressive but compassionate DUI attorneys.


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