In Texas, driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges are often associated with drinking alcohol and driving, but driving while intoxicated from substances other than alcohol – such as marijuana or prescription drugs, is against the law as well. Driving with THC (the chemical compound found in marijuana) in your blood – whether if it’s been there for a few hours or a few weeks – can result in a DWI conviction.
Marijuana is the most prevalent illicit drug identified in impaired drivers. However, due to reasons related to detection and process, such as delays in sample collection, lack of evaluations in legal limits, and the prolonged period in which THC remains in the bloodstream makes defending against marijuana DWI offenses complex.
Driving with Marijuana in Your System is Driving While Intoxicated
In Texas, the law doesn’t discriminate against one substance over another when it comes to driving while intoxicated. Whether you’ve consumed alcohol, taking certain prescription drugs, or used illicit drugs and gotten behind the wheel – if your judgment is impaired, driving under these circumstances not only dangerous but also illegal.
While many states have legalized the use of marijuana, it’s important to remember that Texas is not one of these states. According to Texas Penal Code § 49.01, any amount of marijuana substance found in your bloodstream can establish that you’re driving under the influence of an illegal substance. Being charged with this carries stringent penalties and consequences that can often follow you for life. Furthermore, in those states where one can legally use marijuana, driving with THC in your system is still prohibited. One such state, Colorado, has established a per se threshold, much like the blood alcohol levels we are used to seeing, to determine if one is presumptively driving illegally with THC in your system.
Testing for Substances Such as Marijuana
Alcohol consumption has been studied extensively for years by organizations and tough laws and legislation has been drafted around the understanding of impairment at particular blood alcohol levels. All of this rigorous attention makes the process for testing alcohol-related DUI or DWI cases simpler than assessing for impairment from drugs such as marijuana.
For example, if you’re under suspicion for drinking and driving, the implied consent laws can require you to take a breathalyzer test to determine your blood-alcohol concentration level or risk losing your license automatically, and the breathalyzer results can signify your level of impairment if any. However, an immediate, on-the-spot test, like the breathalyzer, does not yet exist to determine marijuana usage or your level of impairment from using it.
This poses a problem for those under suspicion because concentrations of THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects, decrease rapidly after usage, although detectable amounts of the chemical itself can remain in the bloodstream for weeks or longer, meaning the substance can appear in a test if you’ve been arrested, even if you used it thirty days ago.
Since marijuana remains illegal in Texas, driving under any influence of this illicit drug can result in charges against you – regardless of when and where you used it last. Any amount of THC in your blood is enough evidence for a prosecutor to claim you were impaired at the time of your arrest.
Additionally, all drivers in Texas are subject to implied consent, which means if you’re driving, you’ve impliedly given your consent to a chemical test if law enforcement suspects you’re impaired. Refusing a test – whether this is a breathalyzer or a blood test – subjects your license to suspension unrelated to your criminal DWI or DUI penalties. With that said, remember that absent a warrant, you do not have to give a sample, but you will face a driver’s license suspension for refusing to provide a sample.
The thing to remember, if you are stopped, and the police think that you are impaired, you are NOT required to do any field sobriety tests, or as I like to refer them, roadside gymnastics. The implied consent law only deals with a breath or blood sample, not a physical fitness test. And even then, you do not, have to give a breath or blood sample without the police getting a warrant.
Penalties for Driving While Intoxicated
- For a first offense (Class B Misdemeanor): subject to a fine of up to $2,000; jail for 72 hours and up to 180 days; community service between 24 hours and 100 hours; license suspension of up to one year; surcharge of $1,000 or $2,000 per year for three years.
- For a second offense (Class A Misdemeanor): subject to a fine up to $4,000; jail for 72 hours to 365 days; community service between 80 hours and 200 hours; license suspension for 180 days to two years; surcharge of $1,500 or $2,000 per year for three years.
- For a third and subsequent offense (Third Degree Felony): subject to a fine up to $10,000; jail for two to ten years; community service for 160 hours to 600 hours; license suspension for 180 days to two years; surcharge of $1,500 or $2,000 per year for three years.
Committing a DUI offense while the vehicle is occupied by a passenger younger than 15 years of age is a felony, and you could go to prison, not the county jail.
Defending against Marijuana DWI Offenses
It’s important to remember that if you are arrested for a DWI, you are not entitled a phone call to an attorney before deciding to submit to a test and in many cases, you won’t be allowed to choose which test you can submit to determine substances in your system.
In addition, a medical marijuana prescription cannot serve as a defense against these charges – especially if you’re involved in an accident. Many prescription drugs can also impair your judgment, making driving dangerous to you and to others. A prescription does not save you from the consequences of a DWI charge. Under Texas law, impaired is impaired, even if it is from a prescription medication.
Because every case is different, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate serious offenses caused by marijuana usage, prescription drugs, or alcohol consumption.