It is a crime to drive a car or any vehicle in California while under the influence of any drug, including marijuana or prescription medications. This means even if you lawfully possess marijuana and use it, you still may not drive while under its influence.

Of course, 23152(e) of the Vehicle Code is also violated if you drive under the influence of any drug, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, nitrous oxide, or other drugs that can cause you to be under the influence.

“Under the influence” is when as a result of taking a drug or medication you mental or physical abilities are so impaired that you are no longer able to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person.

Remember, even driving under the influence of a lawfully prescribed medication can result in your being arrested for this crime.


The penalties for driving under the influence of drugs without injuries are:

  • For a first offense, you are exposed to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • You will have to take a three month drinking driving program certified by the courts.
  • Your license will be suspended for up to six months. You will not be able to lawfully drive at all, called a “hard suspension,” for the first 30 days. For the remaining five months, you will be able to obtain a restricted license, which will allow you to drive to and from work, during work, and to and from your drinking driving program.
  • You will be placed on probation, if you settle the case prior to trial, for between three to five years. For instance, in Sonoma and Marin Counties, it’s the three-year period, but for Mendocino, they require a five year period of probation. Consult with an attorney because often, Mendocino County will reduce the period of probation to three years if you have satisfied all the requirements of probation prior to the passing of three years, such as paying fines, completing the drinking driving program, and reimbursing any victims for damage caused to them as a result of your driving under the influence.
  • If you have been previously convicted of either a driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs within ten years of your current conviction, then the punishment is more severe. For instance, instead of a five-month suspension of your California Driver’s License, your license may be suspended for two years, or even for life.
  • In every jurisdiction, the punishment for a second, third, or more offense of violating this law will expose you to significant jail time.

A violation of driving under the influence of a drug will be charged as a felony if as a result of your driving, you cause injury to another or if you have three or more convictions for driving under the influence within ten years of your current conviction, or you have a prior felony conviction for DUI within ten years.

If you are charged with a felony violation of DUI, you are exposed to significant state prison, beginning at up to three years.

Legal defenses

There are many legal defenses to the allegation you drove while under the influence of a drug or medication because it is difficult to prove. For instance, there is not “bright line” legal limit for this crime, as there is with alcohol, which is 0.08% BAC or more.

  • You were not so impaired by the drug or medication that you were unsafe to drive.
  • You mistakenly took a Vicodin instead of an aspirin because they were mingled in the same daily pill container. In other words, you did not voluntarily take the Vicodin or other drug or medication.
  • Though the toxicology test of your blood shows the presence of THC, it is not the psychoactive component of marijuana, but the non-psychoactive molecule and the field sobriety testing shows you had your balance and coordination intact.

When you are facing substantial jail time, you ought to consider:

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