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Marijuana-Impaired Driving in New York: What the Law Says


There is no denying the fact that marijuana laws around the country have changed dramatically over the past decade. While pot remains illegal under federal law, many states have legalized the drug for medicinal and/or recreational use. Here in New York, possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized, which is not the same thing as making something legal.

One problem that many states are encountering now is what to do about drivers who have detectable levels of marijuana in their systems. Unlike with alcohol, certain components of marijuana (referred to as cannabinoids) stay in the body long after the impairing effects and high have worn off. No reliable tests or standards have yet been developed to measure whether a person with cannabinoids in his system is actually impaired at the time of the traffic stop.

This problem is already playing out in courts. Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that in cases where defendants have been charged with driving under the influence of marijuana, results of field sobriety tests (the ones used to judge alcohol impairment) will not be considered conclusive evidence of marijuana-impaired drugged driving. FST results can be introduced as evidence in such cases, but in a much more limited capacity.

How does New York Law treat this issue?

In more than two dozen states, drivers can be charged with drugged driving for having any detectable level of cannabinoids in their system — even trace amounts suggesting that the effects of the drug have long since worn off. These are known as zero tolerance per se limits.

Thankfully, New York law is not as strict. However, you can be charged with drugged driving if you have cannabinoids in your system and an officer believes that your consumption of the drug has impaired your ability to drive safely. While this is more reasonable than a zero-tolerance policy, it is also more subjective.

If you have been charged with drugged driving in New York, you may have more legal options than you think. For this and other reasons, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area.