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Medical Marijuana And DUI In Illinois: A Legal Gray Area

The Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act has made it legal for individuals with certain illnesses or medical conditions to legally use marijuana and to purchase it from state-sanctioned dispensaries. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, more than 3,000 people across the state have qualified to purchase and use medical marijuana.

While this law could be a game-changer on many levels, there is at least one area of the law that is in flux. Currently, Illinois does not have objective standards to determine how much medical marijuana is too much to legally drive.

Currently, Illinois law maintains a zero tolerance policy for users of illegal drugs. Specifically, any motorist with any trace of illegal drugs can be charged with DUI. The zero tolerance law, however, does not apply to medical marijuana users. Therefore, medical marijuana patients may be able to legally drive. Medical marijuana users can still be charged with DUI under certain circumstances.

How Do Police Decide If Someone Using Medical Marijuana Is Impaired?

Typically, a police officer will observe a motorist's activity to determine if there is reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle. Weaving or driving erratically could give an officer reasonable suspicion. Moving violations, such as speeding or running a stop sign or red light, also yield reasonable suspicion. Once the officer has stopped the car, he or she can ask the driver to conduct field sobriety tests. Police officers use standard field sobriety tests (SFSTs) to determine whether a driver is impaired. For medical marijuana users, failing these tests or refusing to take them could lead to a DUI arrest.

Some states have laws establishing limits to how much marijuana a person can consume without becoming legally impaired. In Washington, a state that has legalized recreational marijuana use, drivers cannot have more than five nanograms per milliliter of blood (5 ng/ml) of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Colorado, Nevada and Ohio have similar laws on the books. At this point, Illinois does not have such a law.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Illinois courts interpret these laws. Any person accused of DUI should retain the services of an experienced defense lawyer at the earliest opportunity. A defense attorney will be able to explore all defenses and present the strongest possible arguments to the prosecutor, judge and if necessary, a jury.

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