The Deal with Driving High in Florida

January 14, 2023 Criminal Defense, Drug Charges, Drunk Driving/DUI

Law enforcement across the nation is on the same page when it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol—it’s against the law. However, there is more of a discussion when it comes to driving under the influence of marijuana or cannabis. Several states have made recreational marijuana use legal, while Florida has made it legal for medical purposes. This raises the question, “what’s the deal with driving high?”

This article will review what it means to be high, the science behind driving high, and the criminal charges that a person can face for driving high in Florida.

Defining “High”

The term “being high” is hard to define, as it is a subjective term. The feeling of “being high” can vary from person to person, depending on various factors such as:

  • Weight
  • Sex
  • Potency of cannabis
  • Consumption method
  • Amount of food eaten that day

When a person consumes cannabis, the feeling that typically results is that person feeling high or “stoned.” Stoned is defined as the effects experienced by a drug such as cannabis.

In a criminal case where an individual is accused of driving high, it usually refers to the driver consuming THC and then getting behind the wheel of a car. THC is the most common cannabinoid, is fat-soluble, and can be stored in a person’s body for several days.

According to the American Addiction Center, the physical signs of cannabis use include a person having red eyes, poor muscle coordination, delayed reaction times, and increased appetite. Other signs include the distinct smell of marijuana or a sudden shift in mood.

The following is a list of potential short-term side effects of marijuana use:

  • Panic
  • Anxiety
  • Poor muscle or limb coordination
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Increased heart rate
  • Distorted senses
  • Red eyes

Like the effects of marijuana, the amount of time that the “high” feeling lasts can vary depending on a person’s tolerance level. For some people, the duration can last up to several hours. However, the trace of marijuana can stay in a person’s system for months. This makes it difficult for authorities when testing for drug use.

Due to cannabis use becoming more accepted across the U.S., law enforcement and politicians have been pushed to treat driving while high the same way they would if a person were driving while drunk.

Science on Driving High

As marijuana has become legal for medical use in the state, Florida’s Legislature is trying to determine the dangers of driving high—along with the consequences of being arrested for driving high. Yet, how dangerous is driving while high?

The following is a list of statistics on the effects of driving while high versus driving drunk from a 2009 study:

  • Based on the analysis of 60 cognitive studies, it was determined that “marijuana causes impairment in every performance area that can reasonably be connected with safe driving of a vehicle.” However, when compared to the experimental studies, “surprisingly…most marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on the actual road tests.”
  • Based on the analysis of 120 studies, greater impairment was found in users of higher THC concentrations. However, “more frequent users…show less impairment than infrequent users at the same dose.” One theory is that frequent users build up more of a tolerance to THC’s side effects, therefore learning how to react to the high feeling from repeated use.
  • The window when maximum impairment occurs from marijuana consumption typically takes place between 20 to 40 minutes after consumption, but should “vanish [by] 2.5 hours later.”
  • The study states that while “unanimity exists that alcohol use increases crash risk…epidemiological studies have been inconclusive regarding whether cannabis use causes an increased risk of accidents.”

A more recent study from 2021 had 10 participants use a driving simulator after inhaling cannabis with a 6.9% THC level to review their driving performance while being under the influence of marijuana. The study found that the effects differ depending on the strain of cannabis, noting “drug effects that produce more stimulation results in less impact on driving, while those that produce a more stoned or high feeling results in a greater negative effect on driving.”

UC San Diego published a study in 2022 where they tested 191 individuals who consumed cannabis and later participated in driving simulations, iPad-based performance assessments, and bodily fluid drawings. Less than 50% of the participants qualified as impaired even after the cannabis consumption, and it took nearly four hours of post-smoking for the driving tests to match the sober results.

The following is a statement from the review:

“The Composite Drive Score did not differ based on THC content or use intensity in the last 6 months, despite post-smoking blood THC concentrations being higher in those with the highest use intensity.”

The statement indicates that chronic consumption will yield higher THC concentrations, but higher THC concentrations do not necessarily predict poorer driving performance. In addition, multiple participants were skeptical about driving directly after consuming marijuana. Several participants waited 90 minutes before driving, despite having little improvement in their impairments.

Despite the findings from each study, you can be arrested and charged for driving under the influence of marijuana in Florida. This brings up the importance of how a police officer can determine if you’re high while driving a vehicle in Florida.

How Police Can Tell if You’re High

Typically when an officer completes a traffic stop for reckless driving, impairment behind the wheel can be measured by blood alcohol content (BAC). The signs police officers look for to determine impairment include any of the following:

  • Swerving
  • Braking
  • Patterns of acceleration
  • Inability to focus

Although there are tests available to determine whether a person has THC in their system—it differs from determining if the person is high. If an officer pulls you over for a traffic stop, they may use physical tells such as red eyes, slurred speech, or the smell of cannabis to determine if the driver has been under the influence of drugs. The determination is subjective and up to the officer’s discretion.

If an officer believes that you have been driving high under the influence of cannabis or other controlled substances, it may result in criminal charges against you.

Criminal Charges for Driving High

When a person is accused of driving high in Florida, they can be charged with driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) or “drugged driving.” Florida law explains that a person can be charged with drugged driving for operating a vehicle or being in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of any chemical or controlled substance. DUID charges can also be given to a person who has consumed both alcohol and illicit substances.

Florida Statute section 316.193 states that a person can be charged with driving under the influence if they were under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance under section 877.111, or any substance controlled under Chapter 893, when affected to the extent that a normal person’s faculties are impaired.

“Normal faculties” would be a person’s ability to complete any of the following:

  • See
  • Hear
  • Walk
  • Talk
  • Judge distances
  • Drive an automobile

For a standard DUI case, authorities can request for the accused person to take a breathalyzer test. If the person’s BAC level is 0.08% or more, they are considered to be under the influence of alcohol and can be convicted of a DUI charge.

However, Florida does not have a limit per se for driving under the influence of drugs. That means any person who is found with traces of drugs in their system can be at risk of a DUID charge.

Once an officer has reason to believe that the driver is under the influence of a controlled substance, they can request a blood or urine test. Under Florida Statute section 316.1932(1), the driver is deemed to have given their consent to submit either a blood or urine test. If the accused person refuses or the consent is withdrawn, then there are enhanced administrative penalties.

Penalties for Driving High in Florida

In the state of Florida, charges for DUID are similar to penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol, which include the following:

  • First Offense DUID – Fines between $500 and $1,000, up to six months in jail, at least 50 hours of community service, and up to one year or a license suspension.
  • Second Offense within Five Years – Fines between $1,000 and $2,000, up to nine months of imprisonment, and at least five years of license revocation.
  • Third or Subsequent Offense within Ten Years – Fines between $2,000 and $5,000, up to five years of imprisonment, and at least ten years of license revocation.

If you or someone you love has been accused of driving under the influence, we highly advise speaking with a defense attorney in your area.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

When getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, it is never a good idea to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Aside from the potential danger a DUI or DUID can cause those people involved, it is also against the law. A person convicted of a DUID can face expensive fines, imprisonment, and the possibility of losing their license.

If you’re in need of a defense attorney to represent your case, contact Pumphrey Law Firm. Don Pumphrey and his team have years of experience representing clients in DUI and DUID cases. We will stand by your side and help fight for your future. Call us today for a free consultation regarding your case at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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