Can You Get a DUI for Driving High?

In Florida, the law against driving under the influence (DUI) is not limited to alcohol. It also covers driving while impaired by drugs, including marijuana. Since marijuana became increasingly legal, the question of whether someone can be charged and convicted of DUI after smoking or ingesting cannabis has become more relevant.  


At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, we have extensive experience defending people charged with DUI. We want you to understand what Florida DUI laws say about marijuana, what the penalties could be, and how marijuana cases are different from alcohol-based DUI cases. If you are arrested for driving under the influence of either alcohol or marijuana, contact our office today to learn how we can help. 



Florida DUI Laws 


Florida has strict DUI laws in place to penalize individuals who drive or are in physical control of vehicles while impaired by alcohol or drugs. There are two primary categories: DUI for alcohol impairment and DUI for drug impairment. 


  • DUI for Alcohol Impairment 

For alcohol impairment, Florida law sets a legal limit of 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for adults aged 21 and over. If you are found operating a vehicle with a BAC at or above this limit, you can be charged with DUI. Penalties for DUI convictions include fines, license suspension, mandatory DUI education programs, probation, and, in some cases, up to six months imprisonment for a first offense. 


  • DUI for Drug Impairment 

When it comes to drug impairment, including marijuana, Florida law treats the offense as seriously as it does alcohol impairment. It is illegal to operate or be in actual physical control a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance, including drugs that may be legally obtained through a prescription, such as medical marijuana. Florida Statute 316.193 prohibits driving under the influence of any substance listed in Section 893.03(1) or a similar chemical compound. 


While alcohol-related DUI cases usually require evidence of the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) reading to be 0.08 or higher, the law also provides for conviction of anyone who is driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the extent that their normal faculties are impaired to a degree that prevents them from operating a motor vehicle safely.  


More on the Topic > The High Road 


Marijuana and DUI in Florida 


With the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida, there has been a growing concern about impaired driving due to the use of cannabis. While medical marijuana is legal in the state for qualifying patients, it does not grant individuals a free pass to drive while under its influence. 


Here are some important points to consider regarding marijuana and DUI in Florida: 


Zero Tolerance for Certain Drivers 


Florida has a “zero tolerance” policy for drug-impaired driving when it comes to certain drivers. For drivers under the age of 21, any detectable amount of THC (the psychoactive compound in marijuana) in their system is grounds for a DUI. This zero-tolerance approach is part of Florida’s effort to prevent young and inexperienced drivers from driving after any drug use. 


Standardized Field Sobriety Tests 


To determine impairment by marijuana or other drugs, law enforcement officers in Florida use standardized field sobriety tests. These tests were designed to assess a driver’s physical and cognitive abilities, including balance, coordination, and cognitive function. But these tests were established after extensive research into the effects of alcohol use when driving. 


Drivers who are stopped for suspicion of DUI should know that they are not required by law to perform field sobriety tests when asked to do so by police. Participating in the field sobriety test exercise can only provide the officer with evidence to use as probable cause to arrest a driver.  


Failure to perform the field sobriety test may not prevent a DUI arrest, but the case against the driver will be more difficult for the prosecution to win a conviction because the only evidence will be the officer’s stated observations. Without the support of field sobriety test performance data, a DUI defense attorney has a better chance of winning an acquittal, a dismissal, or to have the charge reduced. 


Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) 


In some cases, law enforcement may employ Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) to evaluate drivers suspected of drug impairment. DREs are specially trained officers who can conduct more extensive assessments to determine if a driver is under the influence of drugs. Their findings can be used as evidence in DUI cases. 


The DRE training was created because standardized field sobriety tests used to detect alcohol impairment could not successfully be applied in cases of marijuana or other drug use. A DRE evaluation will include a number of evaluations by the officer, including horizontal gaze nystagmus tests, pulse measurements, a muscle tone examination, and an interview, among other observations. Drivers have no obligation to answer questions during a police interview during a DRE examination. 


Just as with the “standardized field sobriety test” protocol, the DRE must follow the prescribed procedures to properly administer a DRE examination. Failure to adhere to the recommended procedures will raise doubt about the reliability of the DRE’s stated opinion of the subject’s drug-related impairment. 


Blood and Urine Tests 


If a law enforcement officer believes that a driver is impaired by drugs, and the person’s breathalyzer test reading is under 0.08, the officer can request a blood or urine test. Unlike alcohol, which can be measured relatively accurately with a breathalyzer, determining drug impairment requires a chemical analysis of a driver’s blood or urine. A positive test result can be used as evidence in a DUI case. 


However, if the officer’ basis for believing the driver is under the influence of a controlled substance is insufficiently supported by evidence, then the results of the blood or urine test may be suppressed. 


Defenses Against Marijuana DUI Charges 


If you are charged with driving high in Florida, you have the right to the best defense in court. Only experienced DUI defense lawyers should be trusted to represent you in a Florida DUI case.


The defense of DUI cases involves a specialized body of law and a full understanding of the science and physiology of alcohol in the human body. One or more defenses may be applicable, depending on the circumstances of your case: 


  • Lack of Probable Cause: If law enforcement did not have a valid reason to stop you in the first place or lacked probable cause to believe you were impaired, it is a powerful basis for challenging the charges. 


  • Improper Testing: Errors in breath, blood, or urine testing procedures or mishandling of samples can be used to challenge the results. 


  • Alternative Explanations: In some cases, factors other than drug impairment may explain a driver’s behavior, such as a preexisting medical condition, fatigue, or an injury suffered in an accident immediately before interacting with police. 


  • Rising Blood THC Levels: THC levels in the blood can continue to rise after marijuana use, which means that a positive blood test does not necessarily prove impairment at the time of driving. This is an example of the importance of being represented by a DUI defense lawyer who understands the pharmacological effects of various substances in the human body. 


Charged With Marijuana DUI? Call Stechschulte Nell Law 


Navigating the complexities of DUI charges, especially those involving marijuana, can be daunting. Whether you’re grappling with understanding the law or facing charges, know that you’re not alone. At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we specialize in providing robust defense strategies for DUI cases, both alcohol and marijuana-related.  


Our deep understanding of the nuances in these cases means we’re uniquely equipped to help. If you’re facing such charges or have questions about your situation, don’t hesitate to reach out. Call us at 813-280-1244 for guidance and representation you can trust. Remember, the right defense can make all the difference. 


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