Patients with Medical Marijuana Cards in Arizona Can Still Face DUI Charges
Eighteen states, including Arizona, have passed legislation allowing residents to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. However, Arizona still has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to intoxication and DUI law, and people with even a trace amount of marijuana in their systems can face DUI charges for having trace THC in their blood.
The law hinges on a “secondary metabolite” of marijuana called Carboxy-THC. If the metabolite shows up in a blood sample, the person could have smoked or ingested marijuana up to a month prior to the blood test. Carboxy-THC is not psychoactive, meaning that it does not cause impairment in the user, but only reports the use of marijuana.
Arizona law currently allows drivers to be arrested on DUI charges if a blood test reveals the presence of Carboxy-THC. Now, medical marijuana users and advocates in Arizona are calling for a change to the legislation.
“The courts are supposed to interpret statutes as to avoid absurd results,” Phoenix, Arizona attorney Michael Alarid told a local CBS affiliate. “It’s possible in Arizona to be convicted of DUI when, in fact, a blood test proves a person is not impaired.”
Alarid is one of the medical marijuana DUI advocates, and is currently fighting to have a marijuana DUI conviction in 2010 overturned for one of his clients.
“Back in the 90s when those Court of Appeals decisions were handed down, marijuana was a completely illicit substance. Illegal in every way,” Alarid said.
“Where do you draw the line to when the metabolite’s no longer illegal?” Justice Robert Brutinel chimed in during Tuesday’s hearing.
“It is just as illegal to drive with the metabolite of marijuana in your system as it is to drive with heroin in your system or PCP in your system. It doesn’t matter what it is and the metabolite is inactive. It doesn’t make you high. It doesn’t impair you in any matter. You could have that metabolite for up to about 42 days,” said traffic attorney James Nesci.
Part of the problem with Arizona’s medical marijuana and DUI legislation is that a medical marijuana card is not a prescription, but a recommendation. Therefore, it does not have the same weight as a prescription for narcotic painkillers, for example.
“If you get stopped by police officer, the officer is going to know you have a medical marijuana card. The officer may ask you, have you smoked, and you say, yes I did or I smoked two days ago or whatever it happens to be and then the officer arrests you for DUI,” Nesci said.
Marijuana DUI legislation is also much stricter in Arizona than alcohol DUI. Being arrested for an alcohol DUI in Arizona results in jail time, fines, and a license suspension of 90 days. A marijuana DUI results in jail time and fines as well, but the suspect’s driver’s license can be suspended for up to a year.
Jon Gettel, who uses medical marijuana to help with serious injuries and on-going pain sustained after a car accident, says that field tests should be able to determine whether a driver is actually intoxicated, while blood tests are clearly inaccurate.
“For me [marijuana] does reduce some of my reaction times causing me to drive slower then maybe would be prudent and so I recognize that it’s not good for me to drive on marijuana,” says Gettel.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with DUI Charges
If you face DUI charges, whether it is your first charge, or felony DUI, you could feel alone and afraid. Just because you have received DUI charges does not automatically mean that you are guilty. The attorneys at the Strom Law Firm have helped people who face DUI charges since 1996. We offer free, confidential consultations so you can discuss the facts of your case with impunity. Contact us for help today. 803.252.4800