Can a Medical Marijuana Patient Operate a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence?

by | Jul 3, 2016 | Blog, Criminal Law, Drug Crime, Marijuana

Medical Marijuana DrivingThe New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (better known as CUMMA) has many rules and regulations regarding the use of medical marijuana once a patient is registered and qualified to take the drug.  For instance, there are new laws regarding the use of medical marijuana in a vehicle.  Here are some of the important laws that people who have been prescribed medical marijuana should know:

  • You can never, under any circumstance, operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. CUMMA does not give anyone, including patients who have been registered for and prescribed the drug, permission to do so.
  • Medical marijuana can be used in a vehicle however; it cannot be in operation by the patient under the influence of the drug.
  • The State urges medical marijuana patients to not smoke the drug in a vehicle while a primary caregiver or other individual is operating said vehicle due to the fact that the operator may be influenced by the drug through second hand smoke.
  • Many police officers have been officially trained to recognize whether a person is under the influence of a drug and may be able to do so during a traffic stop.
  • Anyone suspected of operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana will face DUI charges.

You can see the full section of CUMMA covering this topic below:

    1. Operating Vehicles, Vessels and Machinery While Under the Influence

CUMMA does NOT authorize a person to “operate, navigate, or be in actual control of any vehicle, aircraft, railroad train, stationary heavy equipment or vessel while under the influence of marijuana.” N.J.S.A. 24:6I-8(a). The statute expressly provides that in any of those circumstances, the defendant remains “subject to such penalties as are provided by law.” Id. It is thus clear that the CUMMA affirmative defense does not apply to the charge of driving while intoxicated in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, or to any other motor vehicle offense, disorderly persons offense, or indictable crime related to the operation of the vehicle or vessel (e.g., death by auto or vessel, assault by auto or vessel, or leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident resulting in death or serious bodily injury).

  1. Thorough Investigation of Using/Being Under the Influence While Operating a Motor Vehicle

Whenever a police officer has reason to believe that medical marijuana has recently been smoked in a motor vehicle (e.g., a plain smell of burning marijuana), the officer is expected to investigate whether the vehicle had been or is being operated by a person while under the influence of marijuana. Cf , Section 2.4 (noting that CUMMA does not prohibit smoking in a private vehicle while the vehicle is not in operation). When an officer has reason to believe that marijuana has recently been smoked in a vehicle that is currently in operation ( e.g., when an officer detects recently smoked marijuana during a motor vehicle stop), in order to ensure safe operation of the vehicle following the encounter, the officer shall pursue all reasonable and necessary investigative steps to determine whether the vehicle operator may be under the influence of marijuana, whether from direct inhalation or from second-hand smoke.

Such investigation to assure the safety of the motoring public may entail, as the circumstances warrant, ordering the driver to exit the vehicle for sobriety testing, and subjecting the driver to on scene drug recognition testing by a qualified drug recognition expert (DRE), when practicable. It should be noted, even at the risk of stating the obvious, that a registered primary caregiver is not authorized under CUMMA to consume medical marijuana, and in the event that the officer detects recently-smoked marijuana in a vehicle that is not carrying a registered qualifying patient, that circumstance would reasonably suggest, in the absence of an adequate explanation, that the recent marijuana consumption in the vehicle had been unlawful. See Section Sh.

Besides being inapplicable to a Title 39 driving-while-under-the-influence offense, the CUMMA affirmative defense would not apply to a charge under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-1O(b)for using/being under the influence of marijuana in any case where the suspect had been operating a vehicle, vessel, or stationary heavy equipment. N.J.S.A. 24:61-6 expressly provides that the affirmative defense set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-18 applies to a qualifying patient or primary caregiver who is “acting in accordance with the provisions of this act [CUMMA].” To the extent that a person who operates a vehicle, vessel, or machinery while under the influence of medical marijuana is not “acting in accordance with CUMMA,” indeed, is engaged in conduct that CUMMA expressly exempts from its applicability, 5 the affirmative defense would not apply to the charge of using or being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-1O(b), notwithstanding that the person is a registered patient and the marijuana that the person consumed had been lawfully dispensed to him or her.