On January 1, 2018, California officially became the eighth state to legalize cannabis for recreational use—a move that USA Today predicts will cause an economic “gold rush” in the state worth up to $5.1 billion in its first year. While you shouldn’t expect the Los Angeles smog in general to suddenly take on a familiar pungent smell, don’t be surprised to see a few more “superstores” popping up on your way to work. You may also need to be a bit more wary of other drivers on the roadways, as law enforcement officials have expressed concerns about the possibility of more accidents caused by impaired drivers. (More on that point in a moment.)
That all being said, if you plan to take advantage of legalized pot, you should understand that the new California marijuana laws don’t add up to a free-for-all for partakers and enthusiasts. Let’s look at some of the more important caveats you should keep in mind.
There’s a Limit to What You Can Carry
Adults age 21 and over can now legally possess, up to 1 ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana and up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis at any time. If you’re found carrying more, you can be arrested. (You can also grow up to six marijuana plants at home, provided they are kept out of public view.)
You Can’t Partake in Public
California law still prohibits public consumption of pot, so while you might see more people flouting that rule, they can still get arrested for it—and so could you. You can partake in the privacy of your home, but bear in mind that if you rent, your landlord still has the right to ban the use of pot on the property.
Local Communities Have Their Own Rules
The state now allows you to have and use pot, but local jurisdictions have their own ideas about it, creating a hodgepodge of confusing rules that may literally change from neighborhood to neighborhood in some suburban areas, according to the Orange County Register. You can possess the legal amount of pot anywhere, but you won’t necessarily be able to buy, sell or grow it everywhere—and some cities have banned home delivery as well.
Federal Law May Be the Fly in the Ointment
California and other states may have legalized marijuana, but the federal government still views it as a controlled substance, one that comes with criminal penalties. The feds took a “hands-off” approach under the Obama administration, but a few days after California’s new law took effect, according to Rolling Stone, Attorney General Jeff Sessions upped the ante by rescinding a series of memos that had expressed the Department of Justice’s relaxed stance. While some believe this move will have little actual impact, it does set the stage for a battle over whose laws apply.
Bear in mind that even though California allows you to have and use pot, you’re still technically violating federal law if you do—and we may see repercussions of that reality down the line.
You Can Still Be Fired for Using It
With the current federal laws in place, employers still have the right to enforce drug-free policies, including firing employees for using pot legally.
“Open Container Rules” Apply the Same as for Alcohol
Law enforcement will treat the presence of marijuana in your vehicle in the same way as it treats alcohol. If it’s not in a sealed container, you can be arrested for having an “open container” in the car. (The only exception is if you keep it in the trunk.)
DUI Rules Apply the Same as for Alcohol Use
For our purposes, one of the most important things to understand about the new law is that you can still be arrested for DUI if law enforcement suspects you have been using pot before getting behind the wheel.
Things can get a bit complicated at this point, because while marijuana definitely affects your driving abilities, it’s not as easy to measure and detect as alcohol. However, for now, at least, you can reasonably expect law enforcement to err on the side of suspicion while they continue to figure out how to measure it.
This ambiguity can work against you in two ways, both of which have to do with how THC, the compound in pot that produces the “high,” occurs in your system:
1. There is currently no “legal limit” on what constitutes impairment due to marijuana use. With alcohol, the legal limit is a very measurable 0.08 BAC; with pot, no such benchmark exists, making it difficult to gauge how much is “too much.” As the law stands now, if the police pull you over and suspect you are drug-impaired, they may require you to take a blood test or talk to a drug recognition expert even if you pass a breathalyzer test.
2. THC remains in your system far longer than alcohol does. A single instance of marijuana use may show up in your urine between 5-8 days after you partake, long after the “high” wears off. For regular users, THC may be detected for up to 12 weeks. Again, this ambiguity can work to your detriment because if you get pulled over for irregular driving. If the cops perhaps wrongfully suspect marijuana use, your urine could technically confirm its presence even if you were completely sober prior to driving.
Bottom line: Recreational pot may now be legal in California, but there are still many ways in which you could get in legal trouble for using it—especially if you drive after using. If you choose to partake, even on the rarest of occasions, make sure you give yourself plenty of time before getting behind the wheel, and always drive safely when you do, being certain to mind speed limits and other rules of the road. If you have been arrested for DUI and need legal representation, call our office.