Getting pulled over is never fun, whether you’re a stoner or a square. It’s a great way to ruin a day, even if it doesn’t end in a ticket.
But the situation is even more precarious for potheads. Should police catch a whiff of your favorite hobby while they’ve got you at the side of the road, you could potentially face jail time.
That’s especially true if the cops believe you’ve been driving high. A stoned driving arrest could lead to incarceration, hefty fines, and endless difficulties in everyday life. Just try getting a delivery job with a DUI on your record.
How should you act?
So what happens when you’re pulled over on suspicion that you’re intoxicated behind the wheel? What are your defenses? What should you do in the moments following the stop?
First, a word about driving while high (aka drugged driving). Pretty much everywhere in the United States, it’s illegal to drive with active marijuana metabolites in your bloodstream. But different states use different approaches to get at the problem.
In some, it’s a crime to drive with any amount of THC in your blood. These “zero tolerance” laws are very problematic for potheads, because you can have inactive metabolites in your system without being at all impaired. In other words, the system can get you for stoned driving when you weren’t even driving stoned.
Some other states use a so-called “per se” law. If your THC is over a certain level, you are presumptively high on the road. If not, you’re fine (usually). This is similar to the laws every state applies to drunk drivers, who can be arrested if their blood alcohol content is above 0.08 percent.
Finally, the remaining states apply a simple impairment test: If a motorist has marijuana in his system and drives in an impaired fashion, he can be charged with drugged driving.
Beware of varying laws when travelling inter-state
If you get stopped in a state with the first kind of law, good luck to you. This sometimes happens to drivers who cross state lines – from California to Arizona, for example – and enter a state with harsh high driving laws. Though a motorist may be safe driving in California with inactive metabolites, Arizona cops could bust him.
If you’re pulled over in a state with per se laws, you could still end up in jail even if you weren’t impaired on the road. But you’ll have a much stronger case if you had low levels of THC in your blood. In a strict state, even that won’t save you.
It’s usually best to get stopped in a state that uses an impairment standard (unless of course you’re actually impaired). But even there, officials may have a poor understanding of how marijuana affects motorists – and that could mean unjust incarceration.
Your best defense if you’re stopped on suspicion of drugged driving is usually that you weren’t impaired. Low THC values will help, as will dash cam video showing you weren’t driving dangerously.
Don’t answer police questions
But your best bet is simply to remain calm during the stop and decline to answer any questions that might incriminate you. For example, you need not and should not tell police where you’ve been, where you’re going, or whether you have pot in the car, among many other details you can keep to yourself. Certainly don’t answer any questions about whether you’ve smoked weed recently.
Of course, most traffic stops end peacefully without arrest. If you’ve been driving sober, you have little to worry about; the officer will probably just write you a ticket for your infraction and move on. In any event, the odds you’ll get busted for anything are slim.
But if things should take a turn for the worse and cops arrest you, make sure to stop talking and ask for a lawyer immediately. A DUI may seem like a minor bump in the road, but in fact it’s much more serious than a civil possession ticket. It could lead to problems renting apartments, finding jobs, or securing government benefits.