How the Legalization of Marijuana May Affect the Enforcement of Arizona DUI Laws

Over the past decade, there has been a shift in society’s attitude towards marijuana. As a result, many states have legalized medical marijuana, decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana, and even legalized recreational use of marijuana. According to a recent news report, a 2020 ballot initiative in Arizona seeks to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Often, this raises questions about how Arizona DUI law will be impacted.

Under the new ballot initiative, recreational marijuana would be legalized for adults over the age of 21. The law would regulate where cannabis could be smoked, and also continues to make it illegal to operate a vehicle, boat, or airplane while “impaired even to the slightest degree.”

How the criminal justice system answers the question of when someone is “impaired” by marijuana is going to be critical to the fair enforcement of the state’s DUI laws. Even for a casual smoker, marijuana can stay in their system for weeks after use. However, any mind-altering effects of the drug wear off after just a few hours. Thus, it is possible that someone could smoke marijuana at night, get up to go to work, get pulled over on the way for an unrelated traffic offense, and be arrested for DUI. Certainly, this is not the intent of lawmakers who hoped to allow the responsible use of marijuana and only criminalize those who drive while actually impaired.

Other states that have legalized marijuana have faced similar issues. Typically, the way this is handled is by looking at the levels of an intoxicated person’s active and inactive metabolites. When marijuana is consumed, the body metabolizes the drug. As a result of the metabolization process, certain active and inactive chemicals, or metabolites, are released into the body. Many of these chemicals have no intoxicating effect; however, they can result in a positive drug screen. The active metabolites, which are responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana use, break down in a number of hours after marijuana use.

When someone is given a drug test, the results will display the levels of both the active and inactive metabolites. It used to be that someone could be convicted of a DUI with any marijuana metabolite in their system; however, Arizona courts rejected that approach. Currently, someone cannot be convicted of DUI “based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.”

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI, contact Attorney James E. Novak to discuss your case. Attorney Novak is a preeminent Tempe DUI attorney with extensive experience handling Arizona marijuana DUI cases. Having handled thousands of DUI cases over his career, Attorney Novak understands the technical and scientific aspects of DUI law, and puts this advanced knowledge to use for his clients. He is also well-versed in Arizona search-and-seizure law, which enables him to suppress chemical test results in many cases. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 480-413-1499.

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