An Overview of DUI Laws and Medical Marijuana Cards

While driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in Arizona, what about if you are pulled over and test positive for marijuana when you have a legal right to use it?

In 2016, Arizona citizens voted against legalizing marijuana for recreational use. However, Arizona does allow qualified patients to obtain marijuana for medical use. Despite medical authorization, users of medical marijuana can still be stopped for impaired driving and face the administrative and criminal consequences of driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or a metabolite of a drug.

At a traffic stop , patients using medical marijuana will probably pass a breath test designed to measure blood alcohol content (BAC).The active drug in marijuana is called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).In the body, THC breaks down quickly into metabolites, or byproducts of the original drug.The major metabolite of THC is tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid (THC-COOH), and it remains in the body for a relatively long time.

While drug tests may screen for THC, it is less likely to be found, because of the fast break down time. When an individual is tested for THC-COOH, a one-time use of marijuana can still register three days later.Heavy use of marijuana will show up on a drug test up to 30 days later.

If you are arrested at a traffic stop for driving impaired with marijuana, a urine test will more than likely support the arrest.While legal marijuana users have been convicted of DUI based on this scenario, recent case law offers some help if you face a DUI while you are legally prescribed marijuana.

Your medical marijuana card could be used as a defense if arrested for marijuana DUI

In December, 2016, the Arizona Court of Appeals offered some relief to legal users of marijuana who are arrested for impaired driving.

The case on appeal involved Nadir Ishak.In 2013, Mr. Ishak was arrested, for “driving while impaired to the slightest degree,” after law enforcement observed Mr. Ishak drift into another lane while driving his car.After the stop, Mr. Ishak stated he had been speaking with a passenger when the car drifted.He was arrested after the officer observed he had bloodshot eyes, performed questionably on field tests, and stated he had smoked marijuana earlier in the day.

Mr. Ishak was not allowed to offer evidence of his medical marijuana card at his DUI trial.He was found guilty and sentenced to 180 days in jail for driving while marijuana or its metabolite was in his body—not for driving impaired.

After deliberating, the Appeals Court vacated the conviction and returned the case to a lower court.In vacating the sentence, the Court ruled that a legal user of medical marijuana may use the authority of their medical marijuana card as a potential defense.

The Court ruled a defendant must present evidence that the amount of marijuana metabolite in the blood was insufficient to cause impairment.Since the State of Arizona currently has no consensus on a metabolite standard to prove what is, or is not, considered driving impaired while using marijuana, the ruling offers defense support for legal users of marijuana.

What does this mean to you if you are authorized to use medical marijuana and are cited for DUI due to drug test results that reveal the presence of a marijuana metabolite?

If you are arrested for impairment from marijuana while you have a medical marijuana card in Phoenix, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. You do not have to participate in field sobriety tests after you are pulled over.

Case law around DUI and medical marijuana continues to evolve. The Ishak case, and others, give your attorney an affirmative defense to protect your rights and fight to avoid your conviction on a DUI charge in Arizona.

Experienced criminal defense law firm serving Phoenix and surrounding areas

Blackwell Law Office, PLLC is a highly-regarded law firm serving individuals charged with DUI and other crimes. If you are arrested on a DUI or other criminal charge, call us today at (480) 448-2415 or contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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