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Can I Smoke Medical Cannabis Products While Driving?

Mary Ekundayo

by Mary Ekundayo

May 24, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
Fact checked by Emily Mullins
Can I Smoke Medical Cannabis Products While Driving?

Driving under the influence of any substance poses significant risks to road safety. However, many people often wonder if it’s safe to drive while using medical cannabis products. Unfortunately, cannabis is a psychoactive substance that can affect your ability to drive properly and may impede your reaction times, vision, and other factors. 

While laws regarding cannabis use vary by jurisdiction, it’s universally recognized that impaired driving is dangerous and illegal. Here’s what we know about smoking while driving.

What is Medical Cannabis?

The National Institute On Drug Abuse defines medical cannabis as “using the whole, unprocessed cannabis plant or its basic extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions”.

Medical cannabis can be consumed in various forms, including smoking, vaporizing, edibles, oils, or topical creams. It’s prescribed or recommended for conditions such as chronic pain, menstrual pain, nausea, muscle spasms, epilepsy, and certain mental health disorders.

What Are Medical Cannabis Products?

It’s important to draw the line between what medical and non-medical cannabis products are.

Medicinal cannabis products:

  • Are made legally
  • Follow strict quality standards
  • Can only be prescribed by a doctor
  • Have standardized doses and strengths
  • Are taken under the supervision of a doctor

What Constituents Of Cannabis Have Health Benefits?

Cannabis plants have hundreds of chemical compounds contained within them. However, cannabinoids are primarily responsible for their effects on the body.

The two most active and most studied cannabinoids are:

  • delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • cannabidiol (CBD).

THC is primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, meaning it’s what makes you feel “high.” It binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, affecting areas responsible for pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, coordination, and perception of time.

CBD, on the other hand, does not produce a psychoactive high like THC. It interacts with cannabinoid receptors more indirectly and is believed to modulate or dampen some of the effects of THC. 

CBD is associated with various potential therapeutic benefits, including pain relief, reducing inflammation, alleviating anxiety and depression, and mitigating seizure activity in certain types of epilepsy.

What Cannabinoids Drugs Are Available?

There are currently four cannabinoid drugs (Marinol, Syndros, Cesamet, and Epidiolex) available for prescription use in the United States. 

For non-prescription use, CBD derived from hemp is legal at the federal level but legality (and enforcement) varies by state.

What You Need To Know About Smoking Medical Cannabis And Driving

Driving needs your full attention to be safe. Cannabis affects parts of your brain that control movement, balance, thinking, and judgment. Using cannabis can make driving unsafe because it:

  • Slows down how fast you react and make decisions
  • Makes it hard to coordinate
  • Changes how you see things

Many individuals may believe that if they’re medically prescribed cannabis, they’re exempt from the rules against driving under the influence. However, this is not the case. 

Just like alcohol, driving under the influence of cannabis is both illegal and hazardous. Research indicates a direct correlation between the amount of THC, the primary compound in cannabis responsible for its effects, in a person’s bloodstream and impaired driving skills, including delayed reaction times. 

In states where medical cannabis is legal, driving while under the influence of cannabis is prohibited. Those caught doing so can face consequences similar to those for driving under the influence of alcohol, such as fines or imprisonment. 

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  • Larger purchase limits
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Is It Legally Prohibited?

In the United States, laws against driving under the influence of cannabis vary by state but generally prohibit driving while impaired by any substance, including cannabis. 

Most states have established specific blood concentration limits for THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, beyond which a driver is considered impaired. 

Additionally, some states have “zero tolerance” policies for certain drivers, such as those under 21 years old or commercial drivers, meaning any detectable amount of THC in their system can result in penalties. 

Penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis typically include fines, license suspension, mandatory drug education programs, and in some cases, imprisonment. 

To avoid getting DUI charges, medical cannabis patients should understand the laws related to driving after using cannabis. 

How DUI Laws Apply to Medical Cannabis Use

There are two kinds of laws that deal with driving after using cannabis: impairment laws and per se laws. Impairment laws state that you can’t drive if you’re affected by cannabis. 

Per se laws, on the other hand, state that it’s illegal to drive with a certain amount of THC in your system. Some states have both kinds of laws, while others only have impairment laws for cannabis.

Medical Cannabis and Impairment DUI Laws

In every state, it’s against the law to drive while under the influence of cannabis. However, each state has its way of defining what “under the influence” means. 

Most states say it’s illegal to drive if you’re noticeably impaired by cannabis, either to a significant extent or even just a little bit. In states where significant impairment is the rule, you could get a DUI for cannabis use if it affects your ability to drive safely. 

But in states where any level of impairment can lead to a DUI, the prosecution only needs to show that cannabis use had any effect on your driving, not necessarily that you were unsafe to drive.

Medical Cannabis and Per Se DUI Laws

Only a few states have per se DUI laws for cannabis use. In these states, it’s usually against the law to drive with a specific amount of cannabis in your system, like five nanograms per milliliter of blood. Some of these states even make it illegal to drive with any THC in your system.

In states with per se DUI laws, having a valid prescription or medical cannabis card might help as a defense. But this usually doesn’t work if you’re charged with a DUI because you were impaired by cannabis.

Penalties for Medical Cannabis DUI Convictions

The consequences for a medical marijuana-related DUI are similar to those for any other DUI conviction.

For driving under the influence of marijuana, even if it’s for medical reasons, you could face fines, time in jail, probation, and having your driver’s license suspended. 

Usually, a marijuana DUI is considered a misdemeanor, which means:

  • You could be fined up to around $1,000
  • You might spend a few days to a year in jail
  • Your driver’s license could be suspended for several months to a year

These penalties can be harsher if there are aggravating factors, such as:

  • Previous DUI convictions
  • Causing a traffic accident
  • Driving recklessly
  • Having a minor in the car at the time of the offense

In some situations, these aggravating factors can turn a marijuana DUI into a felony, which carries even more severe consequences.

To avoid facing penalties and charges like those above, it’s best to limit your medical marijuana consumption until you’re safe at home. Although this can be frustrating to deal with at times, it’s better to avoid driving altogether than risking harm to yourself or others! If you need to go somewhere after taking your cannabis, try options like rideshares, public transit, or walking, if available.

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