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North Carolina has zero tolerance for driving while impaired by drugs (NCGS § 20-138.1). The penalties range from a Level V misdemeanor to a felony offense.

Under NCGS §20-138.1, you may be charged with impaired driving if you operate any vehicle on any public roadway in North Carolina while under the influence of an impairing substance. The statute defines a public roadway as “any highway, street, or public vehicular area within the State.”

“Impaired” is defined as:

  • Blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more
  • Any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance or its metabolites in blood or urine

As defined in NCGS §20-4.01(49), a vehicle includes nearly every motor, engine, or bicycle that people use for transportation.

Implied Consent for Drug Testing

Drug testing follows the same rules as those for suspected drunk driving. Anyone with a North Carolina driver’s license has given “implied consent” to a drug or alcohol test if an officer of the law has reasonable grounds to believe you are using or drunk.

What Is Reasonable Cause?

It is reasonable cause if an officer pulls you over and:

  • Smells marijuana or alcohol on you or in the vehicle
  • Observes that your eyes are bloodshot, or you have dilated pupils
  • Hears you slurring your words
  • Sees drug paraphernalia in plain sight

What Happens if You Refuse a Test?

When an officer has reasonable cause to suspect that you violated NCGS § 20-138.1, you will be asked to take a chemical test, such as a breathalyzer, urinalysis, or blood draw.

You have the right to refuse, but under implied consent laws, your license will be revoked for a year or longer, and you will be charged with an implied consent offense.

The arresting officer is authorized to transport you to any North Carolina location to administer one or more chemical analysis tests.

Different Drugs, Different Penalties

Impaired driving by drugs does not always refer to street or illegal drugs. Any Schedule drugs could impair your driving. You might have a valid prescription from your doctor. However, it is still your responsibility to avoid driving when taking these drugs. You will be charged accordingly.

Some prescribed drugs that cause impaired driving include Ritalin, Codeine, Hydrocodone, Valium, Xanax, Darvon, Clonazepam, and over-the-counter cough medicines with codeine. These should only be taken according to prescription, and you should read all label warnings about driving after use.

Marijuana Penalties

Marijuana is a Schedule VI drug and, as such, has no medical use (excluding legally prescribed medical marijuana).

Penalties for driving while impaired with marijuana is a Class 3 misdemeanor with ten days in jail or a suspended sentence for the first offense. The second offense becomes a Class 2 misdemeanor and 30 days behind bars. Multiple violations increase your punishment.

Marijuana trafficking could be a felony, depending on the amount.

Schedule I, II, III, and IV drugs are Class I felony charges, including meth, ecstasy, cocaine, peyote, and others. Illegal trafficking of any of these drugs imposes penalties ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 along with imprisonment.

Your Driver’s License Revoked and Other Penalties If You Refuse Chemical Testing

The person administering the chemical analysis must first inform you and provide in writing your rights.

You have been charged with an implied consent offense. You can still refuse the test or tests, but your license is revoked for a year or longer, and the officer can legally force you to be tested.

Refusal results in an immediate 30-day license suspension. The suspension can be much worse if you hold a CDL license, are a bus driver or are under 21.

It is common to be given more than one breathalyzer test. This could be to your advantage because the lowest BAC is what prosecutors use in court.

Penalties for Violating NCGS § 20-138.1

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, there are five levels of misdemeanor Driving While Intoxicated charges. Level V is the most lenient, and Level I is the most severe.

Level V

Punishable by a fine up to $200 with a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours and a maximum of 60 days.

Level IV

Punishable by a fine up to $500 with a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours and a maximum of 120 days.

Level III

Punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours and a maximum of six months.

Level II

Punishable by a fine up to $2,000 and a minimum jail sentence of seven days and a maximum of one year. A judge CANNOT suspend the minimum sentence.

Level I

Punishable by a fine up to $4,000, a minimum jail sentence of 30 days, and a maximum of two years. A judge CANNOT suspend the minimum sentence.

Consult with an Attorney

You have the right to legal representation before you answer any questions. It would help if you did not make any statements. If you are arrested on impaired drug driving charges, call Randall & Stump Criminal Defense Attorneys as soon as you can for a free consultation.