Anyone who thinks that smoking marijuana, weed or cannabis is safer than drinking alcohol and then getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle apparently hasn’t been pulled over for drug DUI…yet. As a New Jersey DWI defense lawyer, I can tell you that New Jersey’s law enforcement community is just as committed to arresting and charging drivers who smoke-and-drive as those who drink and drive.
One of the main differences is that pot is illegal, putting aside the issue of medical marijuana for a moment. Possession in a motor vehicle is a chargeable offense, as is driving under the influence of the drug. As a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), marijuana use can get an individual in hot water, much less being caught for driving while smoking weed.
Not long ago, a New Jersey appellate decision upheld a portion of lower court ruling involving a motorist who was charged with marijuana-related drug DUI. According to court records, Reynold Regis filed an appeal (STATE v. REGIS) for a July 2009 conviction in which he was found guilty of CDS DUI.
The incident in question occurred in August 2008 when the defendant was stopped by a New Jersey State Trooper after the officer observed the man’s vehicle swerve over the fog line and onto the shoulder of Rte 280 several times. After stopping the man, the officer reportedly detected the odor of burnt marijuana.
Noticing that defendant’s eyes were bloodshot and watery and that the driver appeared nervous, the trooper asked the man why he smelled marijuana. Not satisfied with the defendant’s apparently evasive answer, the trooper asked Regis to exit the vehicle and perform two field sobriety tests, which he failed. According to court records, the man was arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI).
At the time of the arrest, however, police did not find and CDS on the man’s person, nor on that of his female passenger. However, a search of the vehicle revealed a small baggie of marijuana, which Regis and his girlfriend denied was theirs. They were both subsequently arrested.
In court, an expert witness testified that the man’s urine tested was positive for marijuana metabolites, but no quantitative analysis was made. Also, the prosecution provided a forensic science expert who had analyzed the contents of the baggie; that individual testified that the sample weighed 0.53g and was, in fact, marijuana.
The defendant’s passenger testified that the marijuana belonged to her and that the defendant had no knowledge of it being in the vehicle. The woman accepted responsibility for it and pleaded guilty to a possession charge in juvenile court. At the conclusion of the case, the presiding judge found Regis not guilty of possession of CDS, however he was found guilty of DWI.
The man subsequently appealed the conviction to the Law Division, which affirmed the municipal court’s judgment on both offenses and imposed the same penalties as did the municipal court. In its decision, the appellate court found no merit in the defendant’s DWI-related conviction, however it did reverse that related to a relatively minor traffic offense, that of improper lane change. In the end the drug DUI conviction remained intact and the defendant lost his appeal in this regard.