Sharp Law Firm Scholarship Winner: Should DUI for Marijuana and Alcohol Be Treated the Same?

Texas, like many other U.S. states, treats driving under the influence (DUI) of marijuana similar to drunk driving. At the Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp, attorney Matthew Sharp understands how frightening DUI and DWI (driving while intoxicated) arrests can be, especially because they’re often a person’s 1st encounter with the criminal justice system.

In Texas, the penalties for DUI and DWI can be quite severe, even for 1st-time offenders.

A DUI is a Class C misdemeanor in Texas and only applies to minors, defined as those under the legal drinking age of 21. Penalties for a DUI might include license suspension for up to 60 days, a fine of up to $500, mandated alcohol awareness classes, and up to 40 hours of community service.

A DWI is a more serious Class B misdemeanor. A 1st-time DWI offender may receive fines up to $2,000, spend up to 180 days in jail, lose their driver’s license for 1 year, and be required to pay an annual fee for 3 years of up to $2,000 to retain their license.

Additionally, failure to mount an aggressive defense against a DUI or DWI charge can lead to serious, long-term consequences, including:

  • A permanent criminal record
  • Financial difficulties due to costly fines and increased insurance premiums
  • Required drug and alcohol testing and counseling
  • Interlock devices installed on your vehicle
  • Social stigma and damage to your reputation that can make it difficult to find a job or housing

A recent study by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that after adjusting for factors like race, gender, age and alcohol use, drivers who tested positive for marijuana had essentially the same likelihood of being involved in an accident as sober drivers, while drivers with a BAC of 0.05 or higher were about 7 times more likely than sober drivers to get in a car wreck.

While the act of drinking and driving appears to be far more dangerous than driving under the influence of marijuana, most states treat them the same. Considering the harsh penalties for DUI and DWI, we wanted to know what college students thought about this issue.

So we made it the topic of this year’s scholarship essay contest and asked students:

Should DUI for marijuana and alcohol be treated the same or different? Explain your legal reasoning.

After reviewing the submissions, we were particularly impressed with an essay from a 3rd-year law student at Penn State Dickinson Law. We’re excited to announce that Abigail Britton is this year’s winner!

Here’s her winning essay:

Due to their differing histories, regulations, and harms of usage, driving under the influence (“DUI”) for marijuana and alcohol should be treated differently.

Throughout the United States’ history, marijuana and alcohol have been viewed and treated differently when it comes to their regulation. Alcohol has been widely accepted within our society, based on several socio-ecological factors.[1] Due to its popularity and wide-spread usage, legislatures across the United States have spent decades drafting and amending legislation around its regulation.[2] However, marijuana has been treated as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act since the 1970’s.[3] It has only been within the past few decades that marijuana has been legalized within certain states.[4] Its usage is still considered illegal by the federal government.[5] Alcohol and marijuana’s differing history and current legal status in this country require them to be treated differently.

Because alcohol has been accepted by society for regular usage, DUI statutes have been put in place to regulate the exact blood alcohol content legally allowed while driving.[6] Most people are familiar with what constitutes a “drink” (i.e., 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of a distilled spirit, etc.). However, there is no equivalent measurement for marijuana usage.[7] The amount an individual may need to consume to be considered intoxicated may depend on how the marijuana is ingested as well as the quantity.[8] An individual may not be able to tell just how intoxicated they are when under the influence of marijuana, but could easily tell based on how many drinks they have had within the past four hours. Until there is a socially and universally recognized measurement for marijuana intoxication, equivalent to the one for alcohol, DUI laws should treat alcohol and marijuana differently.

Both alcohol and marijuana can increase the risk of an accident. However, a study done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that those who drive under the intoxication of marijuana are at lower risk for a crash than those under the influence of alcohol.[9] In fact, the study showed that when adjusted for other factors (such as age, gender, race, etc.), drivers under the influence of marijuana are at no higher risk for a crash than those who had not ingested any drugs or alcohol before driving.[10] Due to the reduced risk of a crash, which DUI laws were created to prevent, DUI for marijuana usage laws should be treated differently than DUI for alcohol usage laws.

In conclusion, DUI for marijuana and alcohol should be treated differently because of their differing histories, regulations, and risks of crashing under the influence.

Work Cited

[1]. May Sudhinaraset, Christina Wigglesworth & David Takeuchi, Social and Cultural Contexts of Alcohol Use, 38 Alcohol Rsch. Current R. 35 (2016).

[2]. See, e.g., 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3802(a) (2006).

[3]. 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. (1970).

[4]. Sarah Trumble, Timeline of State Marijuana Legalization Laws, Third Way (April 19, 2017), https://bit.ly/3cBYX8W.

[5]. 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. (1970).

[6]. See, e.g., 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3802(a) (2006).

[7]. Dani Blum, Is Driving High as Dangerous as Driving Drunk?, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2022), https://nyti.ms/3R40jbm.

[8]. Id.

[9]. Christopher Ingraham, Stoned Drivers Are a Lot Safe Than Drunk Ones, New Federal Data Shows, Washington Post (Feb. 9, 2015), https://wapo.st/3RnRvNd.

[10]. Id.

About the winner

Abigail Britton is a 3rd-year law student at Penn State Dickinson Law. She is a former graduate of York College of Pennsylvania, where she earned a degree in business administration with a focus on human resource management. She plans to pursue a career in employment law after obtaining her law degree.

 

Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s college essay contest, and congrats, Abigail, on your scholarship!

Do you have what it takes to be our next scholarship essay contest winner?

If you missed the deadline for this contest or you’d like to try again next time, we invite you to visit our Scholarship page and apply for our next essay contest.

If you have any questions about the essay requirements or the selection process, feel free to contact us.

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