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Drugs & Driving – The New DUI Laws & Marijuana

Tuesday / December 23, 2014

The occasional marijuana user can fear a DUI no longer. The Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled that just because you have traces of inactive THC (metabolite contained in marijuana), legally or illegally, does not mean that you are guilty of a DUI.


Previously in Arizona, if you had smoked a little marijuana a month ago illegally and decided to get in your car to drive to school or work one Monday morning, you were guilty of A.R.S. 28-1381(A)(1) and (A)(3).   This statute says it is unlawful for a person to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of any drug if impaired to the slightest degree. And if there is any drug (see 13-3401 for definition of drug) or its metabolite in your body while driving or under the physical control of a vehicle you can be prosecuted as well.


In other words, if you were around people smoking and was a victim of second hand smoke inhalation, the State can charge you with a DUI if your driving was deemed “impaired”. If the State cannot prove your driving was impaired, you still get charged for having the inactive metabolite in your system. Your entire clean record is now compromised because a month ago you went to a concert and a random attendee near you lit up a joint.


On April 22, 2014 in State v. Harris, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that “mere presence” of the metabolite is not valid evidence of impairment. The Court said that interpreting the law so that any byproduct of cannabis proves impairment would create criminal liability regardless of how long the metabolite remains in the driver’s system or whether it has any impairing effect.


The importance of this decision is how it will affect all prescription drugs from Adderall for ADD, to high blood pressure medication, to Anti-depressants. According to the state, under its reading of the statute “if a metabolite could be detected five years after ingesting a proscribed drug, a driver who tested positive for trace elements of a non-impairing substance could be prosecuted”. The Arizona Supreme court disagreed and wrote that “this interpretation would criminalize otherwise legal conduct” and is not valid. The statute’s intent is to criminalize the psychoactive metabolite of impairing drugs as it relates to driving.


DUI laws are not as cut and dry as one may think. Remember if you are pulled over under suspicion of driving under the influence, you can decline a field sobriety test. It is not mandatory. If you or anyone you know has been charged with a crime, immediately seek an attorney’s help to ensure the accused’s rights are protected. To schedule a no obligation consultation with my office, visit my website at or by calling me at 480-331-7568.

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