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FYI on driving high

A medical marijuana card won’t protect you if you’re suspected of DUI


Since the passage of State Question 788, cannabis users in Oklahoma have been given more freedom to enjoy their favorite plant than ever before. But in the midst of all the excitement, it’s important to remember Oklahoma’s laws about driving under the influence of marijuana haven’t changed—even for medical card holders.

Casey Roebuck, communications director for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department, says suspected cannabis usage is pretty common in traffic stops. “There is no way to test for marijuana usage in the same way that law enforcement can use a breathalyzer to test for alcohol,” she wrote in an email. “However, cues for marijuana usage can be detected during field sobriety tests.”

If cannabis use is suspected, officers can call a certified Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to conduct an evaluation. If the driver is believed to be intoxicated, they will be placed under arrest. The arrestee will then be asked to give a blood sample to be tested for THC metabolites. Drivers who refuse to take the test can have their driver’s license restricted and be required to install a breathalyzer in their car.

Jay Ramey, a local attorney who handles cannabis cases, says he’s seen more marijuana DUIs since the implementation of State Question 788, a trend he attributes to authorities finding new ways to crack down on pot.

Ramey is critical of the way cannabis DUIs are handled. The blood test administered to DUI suspects picks up THC metabolites, compounds produced by your body when it processes THC. These metabolites can stay in your system for up to 30 days after consumption, meaning drivers can be flagged for usage that took place weeks prior.

“If you have any amount of THC metabolites in your system, you’re guilty under Oklahoma law,” Ramey says. “You have no defense.”

Another issue is the use of standard field sobriety tests, which Ramey says frequently return false positives. “They were made and designed for alcohol and they’re not even that accurate for alcohol. There were no studies on them for marijuana at all. People who are stone cold sober have trouble, sometimes, taking those tests.”

Ramey is also skeptical of the rigor behind DRE certifications. Becoming a DRE requires 72 hours of classroom training and a minimum of 12 supervised drug evaluations. Those evaluations represent the program’s final test; only 75 percent accuracy is required to graduate.

Ramey advises against admitting to marijuana usage during traffic stops, no matter how long ago it was. He also tells his clients to avoid field sobriety tests altogether, which are frequently not caught on video. “I tell them, ‘Do not take the field sobriety test whether it’s alcohol, marijuana, whatever,’” he says. “Because the police always say you failed.”

It is important to remember your rights and responsibilities as a cannabis patient. Oklahoma is a much different place than it was just two years ago in terms of permissiveness around marijuana usage, but a medical card won’t protect you from being prosecuted if you’re suspected of driving under the influence. 

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