Marijuana use has increased significantly in South Carolina and across the country. For instance, a study published a few years ago in the journal, JAMA Psychiatry, reported that 9.5 percent of the adults who responded to a survey said they had used marijuana in the past year – more than double the amount who admitted to using pot just one decade before.
Even though marijuana is a banned controlled substance under South Carolina law and federal law, many other states have liberalized their marijuana laws and now allow use and possession for recreational and/or medical reasons. However, a 2017 study in the journal Addiction found that marijuana use has increased regardless of what the law says.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in South Carolina
The rise in marijuana use is especially high among young adults. Last year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse released survey results which indicated that the rate of use among young adults was, in fact, “the highest rate in 30 years,” The Nation’s Health reports. One reason for this spike: Only 30 percent of adults in the 19-to-22 age range “saw regular use of marijuana as having a great risk of harm,” according to the report.
Police officers in Columbia, Lexington and communities throughout South Carolina are well aware of this upward trend in marijuana use. Today, when they stop people after seeing alleged traffic violations or erratic driving, you can bet that they look for signs of suspected marijuana use in addition to signs of drinking. They are quick to charge a person with driving under the influence of marijuana, as well, because the law permits them to do so.
How Does South Carolina Law Define Driving Under the Influence?
Under South Carolina law, you can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) regardless of whether an officer believes you consumed any alcohol. The law states that it is unlawful if a person drives a motor vehicle when under the influence of alcohol or “under the influence of any other drug or a combination of other drugs or substances which cause impairment to the extent that the person’s faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired[.]”
So, if an officer believes that you have smoked pot or consumed cannabis in some other way, then you can be charged with a DUI.
How Can a South Carolina Officer Arrest You for DUI Based on Marijuana?
A law enforcement officer in South Carolina must have a reason to stop a driver on the road. The officer may claim that he saw a violation such as speeding, running a red light or driving with an expired tag. Of course, an officer may also stop a driver based on “reasonable suspicion” that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For instance, the officer may have seen a driver erratically change speeds or weave across the center line.
If an officer stops you for any reason, you should cooperate with him or her. You should be polite and cooperate with requests for documents such as your driver’s license and vehicle registration. You should be aware that, during the course of the stop, the officer will look for signs of possible impairment. Whether you are slow to respond to questions, have red and glassy eyes and, of course, smell of marijuana (or even a masking scent like incense) may all raise the officer’s suspicion.
The officer may ask you to undergo field sobriety tests. These tests typically include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (you follow a pen or other object that an officer holds in front of your eyes), the walk-and-turn test and one-leg stand test. You have the right to decline participation in the tests. However, if you do decline, it may lead to your arrest. Of course, even if you go through the tests (and nail them), an officer may still arrest you for DUI.
If you are arrested, then the law deems that you have consented to undergo a breath, blood or urine test to determine the presence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both in your system. It is important to note that cannabis metabolites stay in fat cells and can be found in a user’s bodily fluids for 1 to 30 days after last use, depending on the frequency and/or amount of use, as Healthline reports.
If you refuse to undergo the test, you can automatically lose your driver’s license under South Carolina’s implied consent law. If this happens to you, then you should contact an attorney at The Jeffcoat Firm immediately in order to take steps to retain your driving privileges. Additionally, you may face a drug possession charge if an officer searches your car after your arrest and finds suspected marijuana.
How Can a Lawyer Help If You Are Arrested for a Marijuana-Related DUI?
With help from an experienced and aggressive South Carolina DUI defense attorney, you can fight your marijuana-related DUI charge. For instance, in some cases, a police officer may violate a person’s constitutionally protected rights or fail to follow proper, statutorily mandated procedures when it comes to testing. Those violations may require the evidence against you to be suppressed and, ultimately, lead to a dismissal of the charge against you.
Even if your DUI marijuana charge does not get dismissed, your lawyer can vigorously challenge the prosecution’s evidence in court and present a strong defense. If you don’t wish to go to trial, your lawyer can work with prosecutors to reach a plea agreement that minimizes the consequences you face.
Above all, a lawyer can be upfront with you, answer your questions and make sure that you make informed choices about your case and your future.
Get Help from Our South Carolina DUI Defense Attorneys Today
You have rights and options available to you if a police officer in Columbia, Lexington or elsewhere in South Carolina stops and charges you with a marijuana-related DUI. Protect those rights and options by getting help from an experienced DUI defense lawyer today. Contact The Jeffcoat Firm. We will start work on your defense right away.
Mr. Jeffcoat, a native of the Columbia area, founded the law firm in 1999. Mr. Jeffcoat got his undergraduate degree at Wofford College in 1994, majoring in Political Economy and Philosophy, and then went to the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he received his J.D. in 1997. After working in two law firms following his graduation from law school, Jeffcoat ventured out on his own to launch The Jeffcoat Firm in March of 1999.