Research published last year in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that a lot of people with THC coursing through their veins are driving around with minors riding shotgun.
Driving high with a couple of kids in the backseat might sound as irresponsible as it gets. After all, while there is still some contention over whether someone who has smoked marijuana is as dangerous behind the wheel as a person who’s two sheets to the wind on booze, most of us can agree that driving under the influence of weed probably isn’t the best idea when kids are around.
But because of how cannabis metabolizes in the body, a parent or guardian could still get busted for stoned driving with their children in tow, an offense that’s not only going to lead to them getting arrested in most states — even where marijuana is legal — it could also lead to criminal charges.
Research published last year in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that a lot of people with THC coursing through their veins are driving around with minors riding shotgun. Approximately 14% of motorists (2,056 surveyed, all in Washington State) with children in their vehicle tested positive for THC, according to researchers with Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Now, this, of course, doesn’t mean that all of those people were driving impaired. Marijuana metabolizes differently than alcohol, so some (if not all) of the participants may have just consumed marijuana in the past 30 days or so. But in real life, if a cannabis user happens to get caught by police in this scenario, chances are they would be arrested and taken to jail. Meanwhile, their kids would be turned over to Child Protective Services (CPS). All in all, the offender would be forced to complete a hoop-jumping installment plan before their lives could return to normal.
It can be bad enough when it’s just you, the driver, caught up in the confusion surrounding marijuana impairment. But when the kids get involved, it makes it ten times worse for everyone. Because the cops are going to charge you for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) — something that can lead to the suspension of your driver’s license, fines and maybe some jail time — while they will also press additional charges because children were present at the time.
Some states refer to this as an “aggravating” factor, which allows them to seek tougher penalties for those caught operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs in the presence of a child. It can mean paying steeper fines, serving mandatory jail time, and having a felony on your record.
That’s right, a felony.
Because in some states, driving high with a minor in the vehicle is considered child endangerment. It’s the same as if a person was caught driving under the influence of alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs. The law doesn’t care if a motorist has a medical marijuana card or whether weed is legal for recreational use. All a cop sees is a stoned driver with a kid in the backseat, so they go in for the kill. And remember, the motorist doesn’t actually have to be impaired to endure this wrath.
And while it is inevitable that CPS is going to get involved in this situation, the good news is it doesn’t mean the parents will lose custody immediately. There is typically an investigation in these matters, which can be a grueling process in and of itself. Rest assured, the state is going to be in your business for a while until it gets sorted out. So, it’s always best to just avoid these encounters. That means not smoking marijuana in your vehicle, not toting around weed and paraphernalia in plain sight. You never want to give an officer any reason to suspect that you’re driving high.
Legal professionals advise anyone caught driving high (regardless of whether a child was present or not) to get an attorney and go to trial. Since there isn’t any science yet to prove marijuana impairment, many jurors in legal states have had no choice but to acquit these cases. Unfortunately, the law has got cannabis users by the ears if they happen to get busted in areas of prohibition. So, be careful out there, folks. Marijuana is progressing, but it could still rip your family apart.