America’s attitude toward marijuana has undergone major changes lately. From the days of “Reefer Madness” in the 1930s to the legalization of medical marijuana starting in 2012, restrictions on the drug have grown looser and more forgiving. In some states, including Arizona, marijuana is now legal for recreational use, with few restrictions.

One such restriction, however, applies to driving while under the influence of marijuana. Just as with drunk driving, penalties for driving while under the influence of marijuana are considerable in Arizona. Getting caught while impaired and/or refusing to submit to a field sobriety test could result in fines and penalties, as well as wreak havoc on your auto insurance premiums.

Arizona’s Marijuana Laws

In November of 2020, Arizona became one of the growing list of states where recreational marijuana use is legalized. By law, anyone over the age of 21 can possess and use marijuana within specified limits. However, just as with alcohol and other drugs, marijuana use is prohibited when operating a motor vehicle.

Marijuana, the Brain, and Impaired Driving

To understand why driving while under the influence of marijuana is so detrimental, it’s important to understand just how it affects the brain. Marijuana contains certain compounds known as cannabinoids, the most psychoactive component of which is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

When THC enters the body, it does more than induce the pleasurable effects of being high; it also impairs cognitive function, coordination, and reaction times. This means drivers may find it difficult to track moving objects, focus on the road, and make decisions quickly. It can also distort one’s perception of time. For obvious reasons, these effects make it very unsafe to drive while under the influence of marijuana.

How Long Before You Can Drive?

So what if you’ve indulged yourself and have somewhere you have to be? How long do you have to wait before you can safely get behind the wheel of a car? Just as with alcohol, many marijuana users think they’re capable of driving safely while under the influence — but most of the time, they’re wrong, as studies show. These same studies have revealed there’s the widespread belief that it’s safer to drive while under the influence of marijuana than alcohol — which is also not true.

As for how long you should wait before getting in your car, the exact time will vary depending on the person. Tolerance, method of consumption, metabolism, and other factors will all make a difference — but as a general rule, it’s best to wait several hours after use before you consider getting behind the wheel. It’s also worth noting that THC can remain in your system for days afterward, even after you no longer feel the effects.

What About Medical Use?

As you might expect, medical marijuana use is legal in Arizona (with a physician’s recommendation). But even if you’re using marijuana medically, the rules about driving while impaired do not change. Patients using medical marijuana must use the same caution and restraint when it comes to operating a motor vehicle.

Penalties for Impaired Driving in Arizona

Now let’s talk about what it could cost you to get caught driving while under the influence of marijuana in Arizona. The state is already known for having some of the strictest DUI laws in the nation, so you can expect the penalties to be severe.

How severe? For one, you will lose your license the moment you’re arrested for a DUI, without a grace period or a temporary license. A first-time DUI offense may also result in mandatory drug and alcohol screenings, up to $1250 in fines, ten or more days in jail, community service, mandatory drug and alcohol education, and more.

Further, you can’t avoid the revocation of your license by refusing to submit to a field sobriety test. If you do refuse such a test, your license will be taken immediately.

What Driving Under the Influence Could Cost You

Finally, there are the long-term costs of getting arrested for driving under the influence. Having a DUI on your driving record carries some of the most severe penalties there are, and Arizona is no exception. If you get convicted of a DUI, you can forget about cheap Arizona car insurance. Insurance companies consider a DUI conviction one of their biggest red flags, meaning you can expect your yearly premiums to skyrocket.

How much? Renata Belasco at insurance comparison site The Zebra has hard numbers: get caught driving impaired in Arizona, and you will see your car insurance rates jump by a staggering 92% to almost $3,400 a year — that’s a $1,600 hike over what the average Arizona driver pays. And that’s on top of the fines and penalties.

In short, it’s best to think of driving while under the influence of marijuana the same as driving drunk — because the risks and the penalties are every bit as severe.