Medical Marijuana and Getting Pulled Over in Arizona

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Marijuana use is legal for people with medical marijuana cards, even though marijuana is regarded as a substance than can impair one’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. DUI laws were designed to keep people from driving while impaired by substances, leaving medical marijuana patients in a grey area that is often difficult to navigate.

Courts in Arizona have a history of being confused with medical marijuana DUI cases because of their tricky implications. Thankfully, Supreme Court intervention has created a clearer, more succinct method of helping medical marijuana users properly contend with DUI charges.

Arizona’s Strict DUI Laws

Arizona has some of the strictest DUI laws in the country. The state abides by the countrywide standard of 0.08% blood alcohol concentration for DUI, but has taken additional measures for severity in punishment. Arizona’s No Tolerance policy means that absolutely any driver under the age of 21 with any trace of alcohol in their system is automatically charged with a DUI, no matter the amount.

Anyone with a commercial license is also subject to stricter penalties. Truck drivers can be charged with DUI at a blood alcohol level of 0.04%, half the level of adults over the age of 21 with a standard driver’s license.

In addition to DUI charges and all associated fines for those found guilty (which can amount to thousands of dollars), the state of Arizona requires that individuals use an interlock ignition device on every vehicle they drive. This is installed at the expense of the impacted driver.

How DUI Relates to Marijuana Metabolites

Not all Arizona DUIs revolve around blood alcohol content. For drivers under the influence of marijuana (prescription or otherwise), levels are tested through the presence of something called marijuana metabolites. A metabolite is the byproduct of the body processing any substance.

Unlike measuring blood alcohol content, metabolites are fairly inaccurate. Everyone metabolizes things at different speeds, meaning that marijuana metabolites may still be in the body of someone who has been sober for hours – the body simply hasn’t flushed them away yet.

For example, fructose is a metabolite. It’s something found in most popsicles. You could have eaten nothing but a single popsicle in the morning, leaving you famished with a completely empty stomach by late afternoon. The fructose metabolite may still be in your system at that time, but this doesn’t mean you’re full or under the influence of that sugar. All the presence of that metabolite definitively proves is that at some point in the recent past, you had eaten a popsicle. This is the main problem with metabolite DUI testing.

In essence, a DUI arrest relating to marijuana metabolites is nearly akin to arresting someone for DUI for drinking the night before they drove. It cannot be regarded as an exact science, and it certainly does not dictate the level of impairment an individual may or may not be experiencing.

Upon further consideration of this information, Arizona’s Supreme Court made special considerations for individuals who legally use marijuana under the supervision of a doctor. Many patients in Arizona feel as though these considerations are helpful, though not nearly enough.

How Courts Previously Handled Marijuana DUIs

Despite the fact that laws surrounding medical marijuana metabolites for DUI cases has changed, becoming more lenient to patients, the court was not able to put itself in sync the decision. Impaired driving was still regarded as impaired driving, with courts failing to take into account that the individuals behind the wheel had been legally prescribed marijuana as a medication by their doctors.

Ultimately, the court did not know what to do with legal users. With laws surrounding both recreational and medical marijuana use constantly becoming more lax, a lot of important decisions needed to be made for the very first time. Although Arizona does not currently permit recreational use of marijuana, the Arizona Supreme Court still had to make decisions for handling the cases of individuals who used marijuana legally before operating a motor vehicle.

The Supreme Court’s Action to Defend Medical Marijuana Users

The Arizona Supreme Court’s solution to the problem is “affirmative defense.” Medical marijuana cardholders can still be charged with driving under the influence, but are given greater leeway in their defense. Legal users are able to present to the court as evidence the fact that marijuana is their doctor approved medication. The state still has an opportunity to make and present a case against these individuals, even though their medical marijuana cards serve as an important piece of evidence to the contrary.

Medical marijuana users still need to provide a defense in the event that the state decides to proceed with DUI charges. While the individual’s possession of a current medical marijuana card is an important part of that defense, there is still much work to be done. Defendants must successfully prove to the court that they have not broken any laws surrounding the usage of their medical marijuana, and that they were not in fact “high” while driving, despite the presence of medical marijuana or its metabolites in their systems.

In short, the decision by the Arizona Supreme Court was necessary, but far from perfect. Many Arizonans find the matter to be overtaxing – they want drunk drivers off the street, but aren’t much concerned with medical marijuana users who operate their vehicles a few hours after taking their medication. Medical marijuana users facing DUI charges still need a proper defense until the time comes when the medication’s impact on motorists can be properly monitored and regulated for an appropriate solution.

Finding a Competent DUI Lawyer in Arizona

Elias Damianakos is a former Arizona prosecutor. He’s familiar with both sides of the DUI process. Now, as a defense attorney, the Damianakos law firm works to defend Arizonans who have been wrongfully charged with medical marijuana related DUIs. Over 15 years of experience will go into preparing your defense, helping you find the justice you deserve. Contact us to schedule a free consultation regarding your Arizona medical marijuana DUI case. We’ll be happy to represent you.

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