Medical Marijuana Legalization At Odds With Arizona’s DUI Laws

One of the biggest issues for states that have legalized medical marijuana laws has been determining how much of the drug a person can have in his system and legally drive.

Unfortunately for medical marijuana patients in Arizona, confusion and loopholes surrounding the state’s medical marijuana law has indirectly forced some to choose between using the drug and keeping their driver’s license.

While the state legalized medical marijuana in 2010, Arizona state law says that if a person has marijuana in his system he is guilty of DUI, regardless of whether that person is a medical marijuana patient.

The problem for Arizona’s medical marijuana patients is that prosecutors don’t view a medical marijuana ID card as a valid defense. So even if a medical marijuana patient only has the inactive Carboxy-THC in his system — meaning he is not necessarily currently high — prosecutors can still charge DUI.

Valley prosecutors say that any trace of marijuana in a driver’s blood is enough to charge a motorist with driving under the influence of drugs and that a card authorizing use of medical pot is no defense. But advocates of medical marijuana argue that the presence of marijuana in a person’s bloodstream is not grounds for charging drivers who are allowed to use the drug.

The legal battle over the rights of medical-marijuana cardholders to drive while medicating is being fought in the state’s court system. Motorists convicted in municipal courts, which typically rule it unlawful for a driver to have any trace of marijuana in his or her blood, are appealing cases to Superior Court, where judges’ decisions could set precedents for how the medical-marijuana law applies to Arizona drivers.

The biggest issue is deciding what blood level of marijuana makes a driver impaired, similar to the way blood-alcohol levels determine when a person is legally drunk.

For most driving-under-the-influence-of-marijuana cases, the drug charge is secondary to the charge of driving while impaired. Arizona’s DUI laws have three aspects: driving while impaired to the slightest degree, driving under the influence of alcohol and driving under the influence of drugs.

Attorneys for the accused say they are willing to argue about impairment, which would allow a drug expert hired by the defense to counter testimony from a police drug-recognition expert, but that a suspect’s legal participation in the state’s medical-marijuana program should provide a defense to the DUI-drug charge if there is no evidence of impairment.

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