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Driving While Medicated: DUIs and Medical Marijuana

The Illinois bill concerning medical marijuana, now awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature, places serious limits on its use. The bill in no way protects pot-smoking patients from DUI penalties.

For a driver who is found to be under the influence of medically legal marijuana, here are the possible ramifications:

License Suspension

Whether the new bill gets the governor's signature or not, if you are driving while impaired by marijuana, even the medicinal kind, you will lose your license.

Under existing laws, you can have your license suspended if you have even a trace of marijuana in your system. But the new bill requires that you be judged as "impaired" by a field sobriety test (FST).

Much like other "implied consent" laws and Breathalyzers, under the new bill, your license can be suspended if you are a registered medical marijuana patient and you refuse to consent to a FST to determine impairment.

Impaired Driving Illegal

Getting behind the wheel while your ability to drive safely is impaired, regardless of the substance responsible, is illegal in Illinois.

Prior to this bill, there was a zero-tolerance policy for any amount of marijuana in a driver's bloodstream, similar to the lower or zero-tolerance rules for underage drivers.

For drivers registered under the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, the zero-tolerance policy has been replaced by the requirement that those suspected of being impaired by marijuana submit to a FST.

Officers must also have a reason independent from a driver's status as a medical marijuana patient to conduct the FST, and the officer must record that reason on the ticket.

'Medicine' in Your Car

While current Chicago ordinances make simple possession of small amounts of marijuana only a ticketable offense, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act creates a new section in the state's Vehicle Code.

Section 11-502.1 would make it illegal for a medical marijuana patient in a car to:

  • Drive and use medical marijuana in the "passenger area" of any car,
  • Possess medicinal pot without a sealed, tamper-evident container, and
  • Possess medical marijuana in the "passenger area" on the highway.

In short, it's only legal for you to have your medical marijuana sealed and in the trunk when you're on the highway. So even if Gov. Quinn signs the medical pot bill into law, drugged driving will still carry some significant legal consequences.

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