The District of Columbia treats cannabis DUI’s the same as it would an alcohol DUI. However, cannabis DUIs are much harder to determine, which makes it much harder for DC Metropolitan Police to actually prosecute.
New FDA-approved technology is currently being developed in Maryland that will be able to determine whether you are high and impaired while driving, but currently there is no standardized method DC Metropolitan police use to determine whether you have been smoking weed and driving.
In this article, we go over what DC weed laws say on driving under the influence of cannabis in 2023, the penalties, and your rights as a DC resident. This article does not provide legal guidance, only an overview of the law, for legal counseling we recommend you contact a DC cannabis DUI attorney.
Is Driving High in DC Illegal?
Initiative 71 is the law that legalized possession and consumption of small amounts of marijuana in DC in 2015. I71 prohibits anyone to operate a vehicle or boat under the influence of marijuana. This includes smoking weed, THC carts, and even consuming edibles in DC while driving.
I71 also states that you cannot smoke in your car, even if the car is stopped or parked. If an officer catches you smoking weed in your car, parked or driving, this will constitute as a cannabis DUI, similar to having an open alcohol beverage in your car.
In DC, it’s a serious crime to drive impaired, whether it’s alcohol, cannabis, or any mind-altering substance or medication. In the next section, we go over the penalties for driving under the influence of THC in our Nation's Capitol.
Penalties for Cannabis DUI in DC
If you are arrested for a cannabis DUI in DC in 2023:
The First Offense: You are subject to possible imprisonment for not more than 90 days, with a fine of $300. First time offenders are generally given more lenient penalties, and there is no mandatory minimum jail or fines.
The Second Offense: You are subject to a mandatory minimum of imprisonment for 5 days and up to one year with a mandatory fine of at least $1,000 and not more than $5,000. Your license will also be revoked for one year with a possible 30-day community service depending on the severity of the charge.
The Third and Subsequent Offense: You are subject to a mandatory minimum of imprisonment for at least 10 days and up to one year with a mandatory fine of at least $2,000 and not more than $10,000. Your license will be revoked for two years with a possible 60-day community service depending on the severity of the charge.
Enhancements: A cannabis DUI enhancement can be applied whether you are a first time offender or repeat offender. If you are driving under the influence of THC in DC while transporting a minor 17 years of age or younger, you can get an additional $500 - $1,000 stacked on top of your original fines. You will also be subject to 80-hour community service benefiting children if you are caught transporting a minor while high a second time.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing in DC Cannabis DUIs
A Mandatory minimum is a sentence that requires the court to give a person convicted of a crime a certain punishment, regardless of circumstances or even if the Judge feels otherwise.
So even if the Judge and the District Attorney completely sides with you, the judge would still have to give you the mandatory minimum jail time or fine, if you are caught driving under the influence of marijuana your second, third, or subsequent times.
In the case of cannabis DUI’s Washington DC has a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 5 days for second time offenders and a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 10 days for third or more offenses. Subsequent offenses also include mandatory minimum fines as well.
Can DC Police Detect Cannabis Impaired Driving?
While driving under the influence of marijuana or any other mind-altering drugs, including prescription medicine, is illegal, officers have a very hard time proving it. DC cannabis paraphernalia is now legal for anyone of 21 years of age, so any blunt wraps, rolling papers, bongs, grinders, or any items used for consuming or possessing marijuana that is in your car will not constitute as a cannabis DUI.
DC Law Enforcement doesn’t currently have any technology to pinpoint:
- There is no standardized test to figure out how recently a driver smoked marijuana.
- There is no testing available to determine how high a person actually is.
DC law enforcement tends to look for the more obvious signs for probable cause:
- Half-smoked joint
- Smell of marijuana
- Red eyes
New technology to detect cannabis DUI’s in Maryland
Senator Jeff Waldstreicher from neighboring state Maryland, has proposed a bill to begin the “Cannabis-impaired driving test pilot program”. If the bill passes, the testing will begin on October 1 of 2023.
Maryland officers will begin using what is called the Thrive Cognivue, which is an FDA-cleared technology that’s been used by neurologist and other physicians to test for cognitive functions.
The plan is for the Cognivue to become the standardized test for cannabis related DUI’s and once Maryland adopts this technology, we can expect neighboring states: DC and Virginia to adopt this standardized test as well.
The test runs you through a 4-minute introduction video and then a five minute Cognivue evaluation. Once the evaluation is complete, there will be a score on the following cognitive areas:
- Memory: the ability to have information encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed. This score indicates that you may have occasional memory issues when storing and processing information.
- Visuospatial: the ability to process and interpret visual information about where objects are in space and in relation to ourselves, this score indicates that your ability to process and interpret visual information is normal.
- Executive Function: the higher-order cognitive processing, such as attention, problem-solving, reasoning, judgement, inhibition, working memory and appropriate social behavior. This score indicates that your ability to concentrate and or problem solve is normal.
- Reaction Time: is the time between the beginning of a stimulus and the beginning of a reaction to it. This score indicates a moderate ability to react in an appropriate and safe manner, physical and quickly, to situations as they occur.
- Processing Speed: is the pace at which you take information, make sense of it, and begin to respond. This score indicates a good ability to process a task and or situations quickly and in an appropriate and safe manner.
Understanding your rights
There are no generally accepted studies that indicate how much marijuana can interfere with an individual’s ability to drive, and at the moment Police Officers may ask you to take a urine test. Marijuana stays in the urine for well over a month which means you could get arrested for a DUI and even though you weren’t high, if you smoked the week before prosecutors can use this positive urine test as a way to convict you.
In Washington DC you have the right to refuse blood, urine, and breath test for the purpose of the officer to determine your blood-drug content.
If you do refuse, the officer must inform the drive that their license will be revoked for one year if they do not submit to testing. If you still invoke your right, the driver can refuse the test and your license will then be revoked.
Also, if you do submit to 2 test administered by the direction of the police, you also have the right to submit your own chemical tests administered by a qualified person of your own choosing.
None of these protections or options are offered if you are driving and result in a motor vehicle accident, a blood-drug content test will be mandatory.
While there is no standardized test for determining whether you are driving under the influence of THC, it still remains illegal to drive impaired in Washington DC. Impaired includes not only cannabis but any mind-altering substance, including prescription medication, and ritual plants (Initiative 81).
Maryland is testing FDA approved technology in late 2023 to begin implementing a standardized test for cannabis driving impairment. If this technology passes, we can expect more states to begin implementing a test that will be able to determine how high you are and if you are capable or driving a motor vehicle. Cannabis DUI’s in DC have a mandatory minimum fine and jail time for second, third, and subsequent offenses with additional enhancements if you re caught transporting a minor under the influence.