DUI of Drugs: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

In 2014, Pittsburgh Steelers running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. At the scene of the traffic stop, the officer reported that Bell said, "I didn't know you could get a DUI for being high."

Bell, Blount, and a third passenger were ultimately charged with misdemeanor marijuana-related offenses, otherwise known as “DUI of drugs.” As their story demonstrates, ignorance is not a valid defense when it comes to driving under the influence of any drug, whether it’s marijuana, LSD, a lawfully prescribed medication, or even an over-the-counter allergy medicine.

Bell told his arresting officer that he had smoked two hours earlier and wasn't high anymore. But little did Bell know, THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, can stay in the bloodstream for as long as 45 days after use.


Despite California’s marijuana reform, an individual can still be charged with DUI of drugs if they test positive for marijuana. But, unlike alcohol impairment, there is no concentration threshold. With alcohol for example, it’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08%.

Under Section 23152 of the California Vehicle Code, "it is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle." But where the DUI laws regarding marijuana can become hairy is the part describing what it means to be "under the influence."

What does it mean to be under the influence of marijuana? Clearly, Bell and Blount knew they had gotten high earlier that day, but their excuse when questioned was that they weren't high anymore. Many marijuana users can understand where the athletes were coming from.

Ignorance is Never a Defense

While ignorance is never a defense for any DUI charge, it may be a defense to claim that you were not seriously impaired or under the influence of the drug. This means that although marijuana was found in your system, you were still able to drive a vehicle at the same level as a sober person would have under the same circumstances.

In order to avoid being convicted of drugged driving, your defense attorney must convince the court that:

  • You didn't have marijuana in your system, or
  • While you did have marijuana in your system, you were not under its influence.

If you were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (illegal or legal), contact an Orange County DUI lawyer at the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. We provide free and confidential case evaluations.

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