How Does Illinois Handle Medical Marijuana and Driving?
By Dan Noll on May 7th, 2015 in
As of Jan. 1, 2014, the use of medical – or medicinal – marijuana became legal in Illinois. Public Act 098-0122 was signed into law in August of 2013, and the program for dispensing and using marijuana as a medical treatment is a pilot program effective for four years. After said time, the program’s usefulness in treating medical conditions, alongside concerns about the medicinal use of marijuana will be reviewed, and there is no doubt that part of that discussion will include the number of incidences resulting from operating a vehicle while under the influence of medical marijuana.
Legislation Surrounding Medical Marijuana
Illinois’ medicinal marijuana policies are tighter than most. The state has not given growers or users a license to go crazy; in fact, there is a very strict application process for both growing and using medical marijuana, and some specifics included in the legislation are:
- Illinois does not allow medical marijuana to be grown at home. It must be cultivated at one of the state-regulated facilities, which will be under 24-hour surveillance.
- All patients (or caregivers where applicable) must apply for permission from the Department of Health to use medical marijuana. If the application is approved, the patient or caregiver will receive an identification card.
- Patients must be suffering from one of the debilitating conditions as defined under state law in order to be considered for a card. Qualifying medical conditions include but are not limited to cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease among numerous others.
- Patients are only allowed 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every 14 days unless it is otherwise supported by the patient’s physician that he or she needs a higher dose.
- Medicinal marijuana is not issued for smoking. Rather, general consumption is understood to be through consuming the plant in food or infusing it in an oil or body rub.
As you can see, this state-approved program for healthcare is very tightly restricted and supervised. Part of the reason why is because of concerns over the use of medical marijuana and driving under the influence, and laws regulating this issue are clear, as well.
Driving While Under Medical Marijuana’s Influence
If you are currently taking medicinal marijuana, it is best not to drive, even though you technically can. The state allows drivers to have medical cannabis in their systems when behind the wheel, but Illinois Public Act 098-0122 is very clear that this, too, is highly regulated. You may not be in physical control of any vehicle, including a boat or aircraft, nor does your medical marijuana card prevent the authorities from arresting or prosecuting you for operating a vehicle if you are found to be reckless and/or an endangerment. There’s the key. It doesn’t matter that you have a medical marijuana card. If you are driving recklessly with cannabis in your system, DUI laws still apply.
Chances are if you are suffering from a condition debilitating enough to warrant medicinal cannabis, you have a caretaker or someone who is willing to help. If you need to go somewhere while under the influence of your prescription, let someone else drive you. You also have access to public transportation and, possibly, handicapped transit services, and it would behoove you to take advantage of these even if you feel that the marijuana is not impairing your ability to take the wheel. Why? Well…
Let’s assume that you do get behind the wheel, or you are hit by someone who you suspect is impaired by medical marijuana. First, pull over and encourage the other driver to do the same. Remain calm and call the authorities immediately. Under suspicion of a DUI without medical marijuana, Illinois police cannot enforce a field sobriety test, nor are they considered “experts” if the case goes to trial, but in the case of medical cannabis…
Medical Marijuana DUI
A medical marijuana card is considered by the state an automatic authorization to submit to field sobriety testing, and if the officer has reasonable grounds, the test will move forward and the driver does not have the right to refuse it. If the driver does, his or her license may be suspended or revoked. If the suspected cause of the reckless driving is the medical marijuana, normal arrest and prosecution under Illinois’ DUI laws might occur, and the arresting officer is allowed to testify in court against the driver to confirm the impairment at the time of the incident.
If found guilty, prosecuted drivers are not exempt from the state’s reckless driving laws even though the cannabis in his or her system is medicinal, and the case will move forward with disciplinary action. This is unchartered territory, and it is wise to seek legal counsel concentrated on this new legislation. Don’t face this complicated situation alone.