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Medical marijuana users still at risk for DWAI

Since being signed into law by governor Cuomo in July of 2014, the Compassionate Care Act has changed substantially in order to better serve patients. The latest policy shift allows for medical marijuana home delivery as soon as October of 2016. While marijuana is still considered an illegal substance by federal authorities, the state is planning to incorporate 12 suggestions made by the New York Department of Health, with medical marijuana home delivery option being one of them.

This home delivery alternative could be a real boon for patients either too ill to drive or concerned about being pulled over by police when they go to a dispensary. Under the Vehicle and Traffic Law VFL 1192(4), New York State does not take medical marijuana prescriptions into account in whether police will press charges of Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI-Drug). Simply put: the vehicle operator will be arrested if the officer finds enough evidence that the driver is impaired beyond the legal limit, which is outlined here on the Department of Motor Vehicles' website.

Penalties for DWAI-Drug include the following:

First offense: This is a misdemeanor with a fine of $500-$1000 with up to 1 year in jail or both. This also includes license revocation for six months.

Second offense: It is a class E felony with a fine $1000-$5000. There is a mandatory imprisonment of 5 to 30 days (with the possibility of community service instead of jail time). A driver's license will be revoked for one year. The court may also require the defendant to attend a DUI program.

Third offense: This is a class D felony with a fine of $2000-$10,000 and imprisonment of between 7 days and 10 years. The state will install an ignition interlock device on the owner's car and levy a one-year license suspension.

Other challenges

Although there are plans to expand, the state currently has 17 dispensaries, which is considered very low for a population of 20 million people. There are also issues of medical doctors being unwilling to prescribe marijuana because it remains a schedule 1 drug, thus federally classified as a drug having no medical use.

Limited dispensaries and doctors willing to prescribe it mean people may have to travel long distances, which increases the risk of being pulled over. Home delivery of medical marijuana will certainly be helpful, but not everyone will have this option. If you, a family member or a friend gets pulled over and tested for marijuana, your first course of action if you are arrested is to contact an attorney experienced in the DWAI or DUI/OUI laws here in New York. Sentences vary greatly, and a skilled attorney will likely be helpful in getting the sentence reduced or dismissed.

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