With marijuana becoming legal in more and more states, it’s essential to understand the consequences of driving high. In North Carolina, it is illegal to operate a vehicle while under the influence of an “impairing substance,” including marijuana. Unlike alcohol impairment, a police officer can’t quickly determine marijuana impairment with a breath test. And field sobriety tests are notoriously unreliable. So what happens if police officers catch you driving high in North Carolina? Will officers arrest you and start a DWI/ DUI investigation? Let’s take a look.
Marijuana Impairment Chemical Testing For Active THC
Impaired driving in North Carolina is always illegal, whether the substance is a prescription drug prescribed by your doctor, alcohol, or an illicit drug. Police officers can order a cannabis drug test if they suspect you are using marijuana.
The arresting officer may ask you to come to the station for chemical test results if there is sufficient evidence. These tests may include saliva drug swabs, blood tests for prescription medications in a person’s system, and urine tests for other drugs such as weed.
Breath tests can find the amount of alcohol in your body system but do not measure the amount of THC.
Law enforcement uses labs to detect marijuana in a person’s blood, saliva, or hair. However, usually, officers use urine samples due to ease of collection.
Urine testing is the most widely used method for detecting traces of delta-9 THC, which can have psychoactive effects. Labs study this sample to examine the levels of the cannabinoid present.
Additionally, trained technicians can detect THC metabolites in urine samples. These broken-down components illustrate that a person has recently used cannabis with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Urine tests can also detect cocaine, heroin, or meth. Sometimes, testing also looks for prescription opioids. (1)
Saliva Drug Swab
Sometimes officers will have their lab collect a person’s saliva in addition to a blood or breath test. Saliva is suitable for detecting trace amounts of marijuana. A saliva sample can detect THC roughly six hours after use and up to twenty-four hours afterward.
What is a Drug Recognition Expert?
You may wonder when officers begin marijuana DUI investigations. Suppose officers have “reasonable cause” to pull you over and think you’re using weed or other drugs beyond the legal limit. In that case, they may call in a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), a law enforcement officer with advanced training in recognizing impairment in drivers who are under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol. (2)
The DRE will often ask you to perform field testing before any arrest. They are looking for evidence you’re under the influence of marijuana with THC impairment or for other probable cause that you need more evaluation.
Marijuana Field Sobriety Test Legality of Refusal
In North Carolina, it’s important to note that you are not legally required to perform any roadside field tests. You also have the right to contact your criminal defense lawyer or another person to witness any testing. By law, your witness has 30 minutes to arrive.
However, refusing testing at the police station or a lab can mean the loss of your driver’s license for one year in addition to other possible charges.
Some of the physical and mental tasks a DRE may ask you to perform in the field include testing for physical signs you’re driving under the influence. The following behaviors can determine whether officers arrest you for DWI/ DUI in North Carolina.
- One Leg Stand Test (OLS): This police test ascertains your ability to balance on one foot while counting out loud.
- Walk & Turn Test (WAT): The WAT requires you to walk nine steps in a straight line, turn around, and then walk back the other way.
- Romberg Balance Test: This test looks for signs of impairment by asking you to tilt your head back and estimate the passage of 30 seconds.
- Divided Attention Test: The DRE will ask you to do several tasks at once, such as touching your nose and counting out loud. Or they might ask you to do swaying, hopping, or putting foot in the air.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: This test looks for evidence of THC impairment by tracking your eye movements. When someone is not under the influence of alcohol or other substances, their eyes can follow a stimulus without jerking. However, eyes reportedly jerk naturally when an individual is under the influence of alcohol.
Penalty for Weed DUI in North Carolina
If you are found guilty of Weed DUI in North Carolina, the penalties can include fines, jail time, and license suspension. The time in jail depends on how many times you’ve been convicted of Weed DUI before.
If law enforcement finds you with 0.5 ounces or less of marijuana in your possession, you face Class 3 misdemeanor charges, and you don’t serve time in jail. The maximum fine is $200.
Current Weed Legislation in North Carolina
According to Forbes, on FEB 21, 2023, a North Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee approved The North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 3) that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
If it passes, medical use of marijuana would be legal for use in certain conditions, including:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
However, the bill would exclude chronic pain as an eligible condition for medical marijuana use.
Whether officers stop you at a DWI/ DUI checkpoint or while driving after using weed and several other prescription medications, your criminal defense attorney is your best bet to get through charges!
Defense attorneys work on challenging DUI checkpoints and their legal validity, carefully upholding your rights, and considering whether a drug and alcohol dependence can help avoid jail time for you.
We Can Help
At Cape Fear Law, we negotiate DWI/ DUI charges with the DA’s office and often successfully help clients receive reduced charges, community service, or time to get sober rather than a conviction.
We offer a free case evaluation and the dedicated service of an experienced DWI/ DUI lawyer. Talk with us about your charges, and let us walk with you every step of the way as you fight against these charges!