California’s Cannabis Laws, Impaired Driving, and Liability: A Guide

by Staff Blogger | December 11th, 2023

California has made it legal for residents to use cannabis both medicinally and recreationally. But that doesn’t mean you can light up and hit the road. Every driver in California should be aware of how driving under the influence of cannabis can affect their responsibility if there’s an accident.

How California Law Treats Cannabis

California led the nation when it became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. It wasn’t until two decades later, in 2016, when California voters approved Proposition 64, legalizing recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and older. However, with legalization comes a regulatory framework that includes:

  • Purchase and possession limits. You can legally buy and possess 28.5 grams or less of cannabis flower and a maximum of 8 grams of cannabis extracts if you’re over 21. However, buying cannabis from unlicensed dispensaries or individuals is not permitted.
  • Consumption. While it’s legal for adults to consume cannabis on private property, public consumption remains prohibited. This includes parks, sidewalks, business areas, and anywhere tobacco smoking is not allowed.
  • Home growth. Individuals 21 and older can cultivate up to six plants at home as long as the plants are out of public view.
  • Transportation. While transporting cannabis in a vehicle, you must keep it in a sealed container. If it’s open, it should be stored in the trunk. This is similar to open container laws for alcohol.

Cannabis and DUIs in California

When it comes to impaired driving, the law doesn’t differentiate between alcohol, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or cannabis. Driving under the influence (DUI) of cannabis is illegal. But unlike alcohol, where a 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the legal threshold, cannabis impairment isn’t as straightforward.

Operating a vehicle while under the influence of cannabis is a serious offense in California. It can lead to criminal charges, driver’s license suspension or revocation, and liability if you’re involved in a crash. Here’s an overview of California’s rules regarding driving after using cannabis:

  • Impairment standards. There’s no established legal limit for THC. Instead, officers assess impairment based on field sobriety tests, behavior, and other observable factors like eye movement and reaction time.
  • DUI tests. If an officer suspects a driver is under the influence of cannabis, they may request a blood test. Refusal can lead to suspension of a driver’s license.
  • Legal consequences. A DUI conviction involving cannabis can have severe repercussions. This includes fines, mandatory DUI school attendance, probation, and potential jail time.

If your offense involves both drugs and alcohol, you may also be required to have an interlock ignition device on your vehicle. The penalties can be even more severe for repeat offenders or those involved in accidents causing injuries.

  • Insurance ramifications. A cannabis-related DUI can lead to an increase in car insurance premiums or policy cancellation.
  • Civil liability. If you cause an accident while under the influence of cannabis and the other driver is injured, you may be liable for their damages. This can include paying for their medical bills, missed wages, rehabilitative care, and psychological harm.

Legal Options for Those Injured by Drivers Under the Influence of Cannabis

If you get hurt in a crash with a driver using cannabis, it’s important to know your legal options for recovering a settlement. Our California personal injury lawyers can help you seek compensation for your injuries through the following actions:

  • Injury claims. We can help you get a settlement from the driver who caused the accident to pay for your medical bills, lost wages, emotional pain, property damage, and long-term care needs.
  • Proving responsibility. We can gather evidence, including police reports, eyewitness accounts, drug test results, traffic camera footage, medical records, and accident reconstruction reports to support your case.
  • Uninsured motorists’ insurance. We can look at your car insurance for uninsured or underinsured coverages and help you claim compensation from your policy if the impaired driver is underinsured or has no insurance.
  • Comparative negligence. California operates under pure comparative negligence. This means both parties can seek damages in an accident, winning compensation based on their percentage of fault. We’ll work to build a strong case on your behalf to show the other party was responsible, maximizing your compensation.

Get the Settlement You Deserve After a Cannabis-Involved Accident

California’s DUI laws make it illegal to use cannabis and get behind the wheel. If an irresponsible driver’s actions caused you or someone you love harm, you deserve compensation.

It’s vital to work with a skilled California car accident attorney to help you file your claim after a crash with a driver under the influence of marijuana. Contact us today for a free consultation. Our legal team can protect your rights, help you submit a well-supported claim, and advocate for a fair settlement.