Hit By a Driver Under The Influence of Marijuana in NC? Here's What You Need to Know


Public awareness campaigns and legislation over the last few decades have focused on the dangers of drinking and driving, but any kind of impairment makes it unsafe to drive. Unfortunately, our nation is seeing an uptick in drugged driving, especially driving under the influence of marijuana, which is leading to accidents and injuries.

People who drive after smoking marijuana or ingesting edibles in North Carolina face the same DWI law and punishment as drunk drivers if caught. Further, someone who crashes and injures someone while driving under the influence of marijuana may face a personal injury lawsuit and be compelled to compensate the injured for their medical bills and other losses.

If you have been hit and injured by a driver under the influence of marijuana in North Carolina, the experienced car accident lawyers at Hardison & Cochran in Raleigh, N.C., can help you hold that negligent driver accountable. Contact us today if you need help, and set up a free consultation and review of your case.

How Does Marijuana Affect Driving?

Marijuana is legal for adults in 18 states and Washington, D.C. Medical marijuana is legal in 38 states and in Washington. But just as it always has, marijuana contains a psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which distorts how the mind perceives the world.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “when marijuana is smoked or vaporized, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries it to organs throughout the body, including the brain. Its effects begin almost immediately and … can affect decision-making, concentration, and memory for days after use, especially in people who use marijuana regularly.”

In a report about marijuana use and driving, NIDA says, “Marijuana significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time, and studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability.”

Two large European studies found that drivers with THC in their blood were roughly twice as likely to have been responsible for fatal crashes than drivers who had not used drugs or alcohol. Several analyses of multiple studies found a significant increase in the risk of being in a crash after using marijuana. In a few cases, the risk doubled or more than doubled.

Marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently found in the blood of drivers who have been involved in vehicle crashes, including fatal ones, NIDA says.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says a 2020 study of seriously or fatally injured road users at five participating trauma centers found that almost two-thirds of drivers tested positive for at least one active drug, including alcohol, marijuana, or opioids, between mid-March and mid-July. The proportion of drivers who had used marijuana increased by about 50% after mid-March, compared to the previous six months.

Car Accident Linked to the Effects of Marijuana While Driving

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says “marijuana’s specific contribution to crash risk is unclear because it can be detected in body fluids for days or even weeks after use,” we do have recent anecdotal evidence.

After a fatal crash in Spartanburg County, S.C., in February, former American Idol contestant Caleb Kennedy told Highway Patrol troopers he took a hit of marijuana from a vape pen before getting behind the wheel.

Authorities said Kennedy, who is 17 years old, drove down a 175-yard private driveway, where he ran Larry Duane Parris, 54, over and pushed him into a building, killing him. Kennedy was charged with felony driving under the influence of marijuana resulting in death.

During Kennedy’s bond hearing, officials said he may have had a bad reaction to a mixture of his prescribed medication and the marijuana vape, according to WSPA in Spartanburg.

North Carolina’s DWI and Marijuana Laws

North Carolina’s driving while impaired law (N.C.G.S. 20-138.1) makes it illegal to drive “while under the influence of an impairing substance,” or a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more, or with any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance or its metabolites (what it becomes as the body breaks it down) in the blood or urine.

Cannabis is a Schedule VI controlled substance in North Carolina, but it is an impairing substance. If a law enforcement officer thinks a driver is impaired by marijuana, the driver will be charged with DWI, just as if they had been drinking.

There is no reliable urine or blood concentration test for THC because it stays in blood and urine for a long time after its psychoactive effects wear off. Therefore, if a DWI case goes to trial it is mostly up to the arresting officer to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the driver was “under the influence” of marijuana, a known “impairing substance.” The officer’s testimony would presumably be about the driver’s erratic driving, their glassy eyes and demeanor once stopped, the smell or other evidence of marijuana use, etc.

It should also be understood that should recreational or medical marijuana become legal in North Carolina one day, N.C.G.S. 20-138.1(b) says, “The fact that a person charged with violating this section is or has been legally entitled to use alcohol or a drug is not a defense to a charge under this section.” This means driving under the influence of marijuana will remain illegal.

Hit by a Driver Under The Influence of Marijuana in NC? Contact a Lawyer Now

A personal injury claim based on a car accident caused by someone who has used marijuana is not the same as a criminal charge filed for driving under the influence. The aim of a car accident claim is to recover compensation for your costs and losses from the accident. Usually, a car accident case can be resolved through a negotiated settlement without going to court. If the driver has been convicted for DWI marijuana, that’s helpful evidence of fault, but it is not necessary.

An experienced auto accident lawyer from Hardison & Cochran can investigate the circumstances of your accident to compile evidence of the other driver’s fault, calculate the full extent of your damages, and press insurers to fully compensate you. When insurance companies won’t agree to fair settlements, we are ready to take cases to trial.

To learn more about how we can help with a car accident caused by someone driving under the influence of marijuana, give us a call or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. We know how the process works and we are passionate about protecting our clients’ rights.

About the Author

Hardison & Cochran was established based on the conviction that a modern approach was essential in today’s legal landscape. Focused on delivering exceptional results through a skilled team, the firm prioritizes personal attention, integrity, and client needs. Each attorney, paralegal, and staff member is dedicated to this vision. Over three decades, with Ben Cochran overseeing daily operations, the firm has evolved into a highly respected practice.