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When legal marijuana users are charged with drugged driving

Many DUI cases involve driving under the influence of alcohol, but it is also possible to get cited for DUI for driving under the influence of drugs, including marijuana.

In the past, any amount of illegal drugs in a person's system was enough to lead to criminal charges under Illinois' DUI statue 11-501(a)6. However, that slightly changed when medical marijuana became legal in the state of Illinois on Aug. 1, 2013.

The state's DUI law now requires state prosecutors to prove that a driver who is permitted to use medical marijuana was "intoxicated" by the drug, meaning that the drug prevented the driver from operating the vehicle safely. But proving whether a driver is impaired is still a very hazy issue.

When is a cannabis user considered 'impaired'?

Illinois lawmakers have discussed setting a specific level of THC that could be tested for and would indicate intoxication, much like the BAC level for alcohol-related DUIs. But there is disagreement over whether that level should be set at 5, 10 or 15 nanograms.

The problem is that there is no great scientific information available that shows a clear line of when cannabis causes intoxication.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can stay in a person's system for days or even weeks after consumption. This makes testing the blood for THC much less conclusive than testing the blood for alcohol, which doesn't remain in the body for very long.

Law enforcement officers have also been permitted to use field sobriety testing to help determine whether a legal marijuana user is impaired. But this type of testing is also questionable and can be challenged as well, as this article from the Illinois Bar Journal explains.

What to do following a marijuana-DUI arrest

When medical marijuana became legal in 2013 in Illinois, it created important changes to the state's DUI laws. However, as you can see, these changes have not been completely sorted out yet. It could be years before litigation finally clears up the laws.

For this reason, if you or a loved one is charged with marijuana DUI, it's extremely important to speak with an experienced Illinois criminal defense lawyer, who understands the current status of the law and how it applies to your individual case.

It's also important to keep in mind that the changes only apply to the legal use of marijuana (people with valid registry cards), and any amount of any other illegal drug is still considered DUI per se under the law.

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