Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in Arizona

by | Drug Possession, DUI

Please note! Some of the information contained here may be outdated.

Please refer to our new entry on Marijuana and DUI in Arizona. 

DUI is a crime that Arizona takes very seriously. There is nearly no wiggle room in the law, and those convicted of a DUI in Arizona will face significant repercussions. Although most people associate DUI charges with drunk driving, motorists found to be under the influence of any substance are subject to DUI charges. Marijuana use is treated just as seriously, and very few Arizonans will have a solid sense of recourse when faced with a marijuana related DUI.

How DUI Law Works with Weed in Arizona

The law in Arizona surrounding DUI as it relates to marijuana is ambiguous at best. It states that anyone under the influence of a substance that may impair their faculties or anyone with a drug or a drug’s metabolites in their body can be charged with a DUI. The problem with the second part of that equation is that the presence of a metabolite and the state of impairment do not necessarily correlate. This means that drivers who have by some means consumed marijuana in the near past can be charged with a DUI, regardless as to whether or not the effects of the marijuana have worn off. Since there does not exist a device to measure marijuana presence in the same way blood alcohol content can be measured, these metabolites are the only foundation for assessing potential impairment. This creates a problematic set of circumstances where individuals who are not actually impaired from marijuana use may face DUI charges if these metabolites are found.

What is a Metabolite?

A metabolite is a remnant of something left in the body after a substance has been processed. Foods leave metabolites, commonly in the forms of sugars and amino acids. Substances like marijuana also leave behind metabolites. The problem that metabolites is that they’re only able to adequately determine that a substance was in the body at some point. They’re unable to determine the lasting or residual effects of that substance. Say you had a big healthy dinner of grilled salmon and a dessert of apple pie. As you digest this meal, metabolites of the fructose from the pie and the omega 3 fats from the salmon would be present in your body. You don’t have time to eat breakfast the next day, but you’re very hungry when lunch time rolls around. There are still metabolites of omega 3 fats and a little bit of the fructose left in your system, but this doesn’t mean you’re full. Your body has run out of energy from the food and is in a fasted state. The same thing happens with marijuana. While its metabolites may be in your body, this does not necessarily mean that the marijuana you previously consumed is still having an active effect on your system. This creates complicated situations for people who have smoked marijuana, even if they waited for a state of full sobriety to operate a motor vehicle.

The Penalties for DUI in Arizona

At minimum, first time DUI offenders will face a $1,250 fine, ten days incarceration, and the mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device on any vehicle they drive. This includes company vehicles if the individual is required to drive for their job. This device is installed at the expense of the person found guilty. Each subsequent DUI imposes greater penalties. A second conviction within 84 months of a first conviction comes with a minimum of $3,000 in fines and 90 days behind bars. A third conviction within 7 years increases fines to a minimum of $150,000 and 4 months of incarceration. With any DUI, the judge can also suspend the offender’s driver’s license, order the offender to complete community service, or add probation to the end of jail time. If necessary, the offender may be required to complete a drug or alcohol abuse program. Vehicle forfeiture may be required for third time offenders. A DUI of any level can be enhanced in severity if a passenger under the age of 15 was in the vehicle at the time to DUI took place.

Common Charges That Come Along with DUI Charges

If unprescribed marijuana or paraphernalia was found in your vehicle at the time of your DUI arrest, you will also face separate charges for possession. These charges will largely depend on the amount of marijuana or paraphernalia found in the vehicle. Many people who are not medical marijuana users will also content with drug charges as a result of a marijuana related DUI arrest.

How Are Legal Medical Marijuana Users Impacted?

Laws have changed surrounding how Arizona courts will handle marijuana related DUI defendants if the defendants are legal medical marijuana users. The Arizona Supreme Court recently passed something called the “affirmative defense”, where defendants can present their medical marijuana use cards and all related medical information to the court as a part of their defense. While the legality of the marijuana being used does put these defendants in a more advantageous position to fight their charges, it isn’t the end of the battle. These defendants will still have to prove that they weren’t under the influence despite the presence of these controversial metabolites. These cases are slightly easier to win, but still require the assistance of a competent attorney.

Refusal to Submit to a Test

Due to Arizona’s implied consent laws, anyone who refuses to submit to an offer’s request for a blood alcohol or metabolite test can result in the mandatory suspension of driving privileges for one year. It may be better for most people accused of driving under the influence to submit to the test when prompted to do so.

Finding an Experienced DUI Attorney

The Damianakos Law Firm, lead by former Tucson prosecutor Elias Damianakos, boasts 15 years of experience helping Arizonans contend with DUI charges. We pride ourselves on our ability to provide Arizonans with the aggressive and competent defense they deserve. The moment you face a marijuana related DUI charge, contact us. We will provide you with a free consultation and begin to prepare the best possible defense for your unique case.

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