ARIZONA: Medical-marijuana cardholders in Arizona who drive after using the drug may face a difficult legal choice: their driver’s license or their marijuana card. If they use both, they could be charged with 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, which voters approved in November 2010, 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.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia authorize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, making marijuana-related DUIs an issue for police, prosecutors and politicians nationwide.
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.
In Arizona, the confusion over interpretation of the Medical Marijuana Act stems from its inception because prosecutors and police didn’t have the chance to weigh in before it went to voters in 2010.
Prosecutors say Arizona law allows motorists who are not impaired to drive with prescription drugs in their system if they are using them under doctors’ orders.
The problem for marijuana cardholders is that pot can’t be prescribed, only recommended, offering no legal grounds for a motorist to drive with even trace amounts of the drug in their system, according to prosecutors.
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.