Washington D.C. Drugged Driving Laws

Learn about the penalties for drugged or high driving in the District of Columbia.

Like many states, Washington D.C. has decriminalized the possession and recreational use of marijuana. But driving while under the influence of marijuana or any other drug is still illegal. This article explains how drugged driving can lead to an impaired driving conviction as well as the possible penalties.

Level of Drug Impairment That Can Lead to a Conviction

D.C. has two levels of impaired driving charges: operating while impaired (OWI) and driving under the influence (DUI). A driver is considered "under the influence" if he or she is less able to exercise the clear judgment necessary for the operation of a vehicle. OWI is a lower standard and applies when the driver's ability to operate a vehicle is noticeably affected by the substance ingested.

Proof of impairment. D.C. doesn't have a per se limit for drug metabolites (similar to the .08% limit for alcohol). To prove impairment at trial, the prosecutor will often use evidence like blood test results, expert testimony, and officer testimony on observations made during the arrest. Officers are trained in drug impairment recognition to identify the symptoms and signs of drug use and impairment.

Qualifying drugs and other substances. Any chemical substance that affects the processes of the mind or body is considered a drug and can lead to a DUI or OWI. Substances that can lead to an impaired driving charge include illegal drugs, controlled substances, and prescription medications. The type of drug ingested can increase the penalties.

D.C. DUI Penalties

Drugged driving in Washington D.C. is generally a misdemeanor and the penalties are mostly the same as those for drunk driving.

First offense. A first offense DUI carries up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. For DUIs involving illicit drugs such as heroin or cocaine, the driver must serve at least ten days in jail.

Second offense. A second DUI conviction within 15 years carries ten days to one year in jail and $2,500 to $5,000 in fines. The offender must also complete a substance abuse evaluation and recommended treatment. For second DUIs involving an illicit drug, the driver must serve at least 20 days in jail.

D.C. OWI Penalties

An OWI has a lower standard of impairment, and thus, lower penalties.

First offense. A first offense OWI carries a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

Second offense. A second OWI in 15 years will result in five days to one year in jail and $1,000 to $2,500 in fines. For a second OWI, the driver must complete a substance abuse assessment and treatment program.

D.C. License Penalties

The license penalties for an OWI and a DUI are identical. A first offense carries a six-month license revocation, but an ignition interlock device (IID) restricted license is available. The offender will be revoked (or restricted) for one year for a second offense.

Under D.C.'s implied consent law, drivers arrested for impaired driving are required to submit to a chemical test of breath, blood, or urine. An unlawful refusal will result in a one-year license revocation.

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