As states around the country grapple with the effects of legalized marijuana use, Arizona’s Supreme Court took the opportunity to clarify ambiguities in the state’s statutes. The Court held that drivers could only be arrested for DUIs if they were actually impaired by marijuana use, not solely because there were remnants of marijuana chemicals in their bloodstream.
How Marijuana Is Measured In Drivers
Previously, Arizona drivers could be arrested and charged with driving under the influence of marijuana if urine or blood tests revealed the presence of any marijuana metabolites. A metabolite is formed by the body during the process of degrading and eliminating a drug. Different types of metabolites can indicate a person’s present intoxication, or could indicate that a person had used a certain drug in the past several days or weeks.
Marijuana use produces two main types of metabolites: one which causes impairment, and one which does not. The metabolite which does not cause impairment can be found in the bloodstream for several days or even several weeks after use.
Blood tests by the Arizona state police did not distinguish between any types of metabolites. If either type of metabolite was found, a driver could be arrested for DUI, even if he or she had not used marijuana for several days.
Arizona Supreme Court Ruling
The Arizona case in front of the Supreme Court came from a man who was stopped for speeding, and during the course of the conversation acknowledged smoking marijuana the previous night. The police had his blood drawn, which revealed marijuana metabolites, but not the kind which would cause impairment. He was arrested, charged, and convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana.
A state Court of Appeals upheld his conviction, and ruled that authorities could prosecute marijuana smokers for DUI even when there is no evidence of impairment. The man appealed this ruling to Arizona’s Supreme Court, which held the opposite.
The Arizona Supreme Court rejected the State’s argument that the presence of any metabolites would be sufficient for an arrest. The Court explained that while Arizona’s statutes make it illegal for a driver to be impaired by marijuana, the presence of a non-psychoactive compound in the blood does not constitute impairment under the law. Allowing arrests without a distinction as to which metabolites cause impairments and which do not would lead to “absurd results.”
Accordingly, the Supreme Court decided that a person cannot be prosecuted for driving under the influence unless that person is impaired at the time of the stop.
Impact on Other States
Twenty-one states have allowed medical marijuana use, while two states have allowed recreational use. The laws regarding what constitutes driving under the influence in these states vary wildly. Some states, like Arizona after this recent decision, require a driver to be impaired at the time of operation. Others have zero tolerance for the presence of any marijuana metabolites in a person’s system, while still others have limits for the amount of active marijuana in a person’s system (similar to .08 laws for alcohol use).
Unlike alcohol, no comparable marijuana test exists which police can perform at the time a person is stopped. While blood and urine tests do measure the levels of THC in a person’s system, these tests cannot be performed at the roadside like a Breathalyzer. Under Arizona’s new rules, police will need to rely on their observations and roadside sobriety tests to determine if a driver is impaired.
Arizona’s Supreme Court decision may affect the decisions of other courts around the country. Last year, Michigan’s Supreme Court also determined that a person must be impaired in order to be charged with DUI. It remains to be seen what will happen as the country’s attitudes towards marijuana use change, but it is likely that more legislation and court decisions will come soon.
If you have been injured by an impaired driver, contact Phillips Law Group at (800) 706-3000. Our experienced personal injury and auto accident attorneys will fight to get you the compensation you deserve after an auto accident.