Use of Medical marijuana in Arizona could lead to a DUI

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In Arizona, Medical-marijuana cardholders who get behind the wheel after using marijuana may face a difficult legal choice. They may get their driver’s license suspended or their marijuana card or they can be charged for driving under the influence.

According to the Valley prosecutors, any trace of this drug in an individual’s blood is enough to charge him/her with DUI. A card authorizing use of medical pot cannot save a person from the charge.

Advocates of medical marijuana say that the presence of marijuana in an individual’s blood is a base for charging motorists who are permitted to use it. The legal war on the rights of medical-marijuana cardholders to allow them to drive while medicating is being fought in the state’s court system. Drivers who are convicted of DUI in municipal courts are appealing cases to the Superior Court.

For medical purposes and for some treatments, the District of Columbia and 18 other states authorize the use of marijuana. Authorizing has also made driving under the influence related cases a big problem for police and politicians. The issue is that what percent of marijuana present in blood makes a person intoxicated like the percentage of alcohol to make a person impaired is 0.08.

Arizona law permits drivers who are not impaired to drive with prescription drugs in their system if the person is taking drugs on the order of a doctor for some medical reason, according to the prosecutors but they also said that the main issue for marijuana cardholders is that pot can’t be prescribed, it can only be recommended, providing no legal base for a driver to get behind wheel with even trace amounts of the drug present in their blood.

In Arizona, DUI laws have 3 aspects; one is driving while impaired to the slightest degree, second is driving under the influence of alcohol and the third is driving under the influence of drugs. In many driving-under-the-influence-of-marijuana cases, a driver is charged firstly for driving while impaired and then for using a drug. In a few cases, motorists are charged for both driving while impaired to the slightest degree and driving under the influence of drugs.

Prosecutors in Mesa and some other jurisdictions have successfully argued to keep juries from hearing details about a suspect’s medical-marijuana card, which can be appealed in the Supreme Court. Craig Rosenstein, an attorney representing a DUI-drug suspect in Mesa said, “They can make that argument (about impairment) and I think it’s a fair one to make. What they can’t do is preclude a jury from hearing that he has a medical-marijuana card. The idea that he would be able to beat the (DUI-drug) charge is impossible unless the jury can hear that they have a medical-marijuana card. Otherwise, he’s just a kid smoking weed and he got caught”.

In 2012 on Memorial Day, 24-year-old Morgan Jackson Doyle was coming back from the Salt River when he was pulled over at a sobriety checkpoint by Mesa police near Power Road and the Red Mountain Freeway. According to an officer, his eyes were red and he was staggering that’s why the officer asked him whether Doyle had recently smoked marijuana. Doyle’s lawyer said that Doyle gave the officer his medical-marijuana card with his driver’s license, “out of an abundance of truth”. Doyle was asked to perform some field sobriety tests; he passed in some while in others he showed some signs of impairment by not passing them successfully. Then a trained drug-recognition officer was called to look for some other signs of impairment. The drug-recognition expert said that it was not safe for Doyle to drive and the police charged Doyle for driving while impaired to the slightest degree and driving under the influence of drugs. Blood tests done later showed Doyle had the psychoactive component of marijuana present in his blood, but the level was low whichs cannot make a person impaired.

A judge in Mesa refused to permit Doyle to show the card at his trial, prompting his lawyer to seek a ruling in Superior Court. Rosenstein said, “I think it’s ridiculous. Voters in Arizona adopted the Medical Marijuana Act, whether politicians agree, or not. My concern was, if this isn’t isolated to Mesa, in theory that could make bad law for the entire state”.

Phoenix’s chief prosecutor, Aaron Carreón-Ainsa said that he understands it is legal for authorized patients to use medical marijuana, but that permission can limit the other rights they might enjoy. “For those people who have medical-marijuana cards, OK, it’s legal, fine. But don’t come to this building because you’ve been driving. Just take it and don’t drive,” said Carreón-Ainsa.

A research of ten years on more than 8,700 DUI-drug cases in Sweden showed that zero-tolerance policies were probably the most effective method of identifying suspects whose concentration-level might have fallen below a set limit while waiting to give a blood sample for testing. The researchers said, “Scientists have found it virtually impossible to agree upon the concentration of a psychoactive substance in the blood that leads to impairment in the vast majority of people”.

The proposals of connecting impairment with a specific amount of marijuana in a motorist’s blood were rejected by the Colorado legislators but a law was passed this year. According to the law, prosecutors can presume impairment if the level is above 5 nanograms per milliliter. A Colorado attorney and medical-marijuana advocate, Lenny Frieling said, “We need to stop looking at a meaningless number, and in the case of Arizona, not only a meaningless number but a cruel and unusual application of it: you punish somebody on a Monday morning for them killing their pain on a Friday night”. Frieling added, “I don’t want impaired drivers on the road. The key in my mind is looking at whether somebody really is or is not impaired. If they’re impaired, I don’t care which drug impaired them”. He is developing a mobile test which can help determine impairment, but without research about marijuana concentrations that shows impairment, the problem often relies on police drug-recognition experts.

Courts within the same states are confused in applying the law which is shown by a case of a Michigan man who was charged by the police for driving a vehicle with a prohibited substance in his system after he told an officer that he was an authorized medical-marijuana cardholder and had smoked 5 hours earlier. A judge said that the state’s medical-marijuana law protected him from prosecution unless the police have evidence that he was impaired. After that Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the judge’s order and said that according to the legislators it is unsafe for a driver to drive with any amount of marijuana in his/her blood. Earlier this month, the decision of Appeals Court was reversed by Michigan Supreme Court. According to the Supreme Court, the state’s medical-marijuana law authorized cardholders to have traces of marijuana in their system so long as they were not impaired while driving a motor vehicle. The court ruled, “The MMMA (Michigan Medical Marihuana Act) shields registered patients from the internal possession of marijuana. The MMMA does not define what it means to be ‘under the influence’ but the phrase clearly contemplates something more than having any amount of marijuana in one’s system and requires some effect on the person”.

Supporters of the law said that the card holders in Arizona should also be given similar protections when they are not impaired.

Campaign manager for the organization that got the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act on the 2010 ballot Andrew Myers said, law enforcement should not take a driver into custody for the presence of marijuana in a cardholder’s system. He said, “The presence of metabolites alone shall not constitute impairment under the law — period”. Myers added, “There’s absolutely no way that, if challenged in court, that a conviction would stand — the law is absolutely clear on this point. You could medicate on a Friday and get pulled over on a Monday two weeks later. It’s that ridiculous — it would absolutely preclude any medical-marijuana cardholder from operating a motor vehicle at any time if they were an active patient. And that’s ridiculously onerous and it’s not reflective of reality for a person who medicates”. He also said that law enforcement should set a legal standard of impairment, “Until that point, I think the law needs to favor the citizenry”.

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