An Arizona State appeals court has issued a ruling that upholds the right of authorities to prosecute pot smokers in Arizona for driving under the influence even when there is no evidence that they are actually high on the substance. Will Washington State follow suit, especially in light of the passage of I-502 in 2012?
The ruling by the Court of Appeals focused on the chemical compounds in marijuana that show up in blood and urine tests after people smoke pot (THC). One chemical compound causes drivers to be impaired; another is a chemical that stays in people’s systems for weeks after they’ve smoked marijuana but doesn’t affect impairment (Carboxy THC).
The court ruled that both compounds apply to Arizona law, meaning a driver doesn’t have to actually be impaired to get prosecuted for DUI. As long as there is evidence of marijuana in their system, they can get a DUI, the court said. In other words, the court held that Arizona law does not differentiate between THC (active) and Carboxy THC (inactive). The ruling overturns a decision by a lower court judge who said it didn’t make sense to prosecute a person with no evidence that they were actually under the influence of marijuana. The lower court judge cited the proliferation of states easing their marijuana laws (sound familiar Washington folks?), but the Court of Appeals ruling issued Tuesday dismissed that by saying Arizona’s medical marijuana law is irrelevant to DUI laws. Washington law makers have one year from December 2012 to institute Washington law pertaining to marijuana related cases. Could this Arizona ruling impact their decision making?
The Court of Appeals based its ruling in part on the fact that the Legislature adopted the decades-old comprehensive DUI law to protect public safety, so a provision on prohibited substances and their resulting chemical compounds should be interpreted broadly to include inactive compounds as well as active ones.
The Superior Court Commissioner who handled the case noted that several states have decriminalized pot, and that a growing number of states, including Arizona, have legalized medical marijuana. However, the Court of Appeals sided with prosecutors who appealed, saying that allowing the testing for marijuana’s active compound would unduly restrict law enforcement. The ruling said it serves the Legislature’s intention to have a flat ban on driving under the influence to interpret the DUI law’s reference to a prohibited substance and “its metabolite” as covering both a substance’s active and inactive compounds.
The Defendant’s lawyer said that testing this very significant issue is increasingly important because people legally using pot in two Western states – Washington and Colorado – that last year approved marijuana decriminalization laws could be convicted of DUI if arrested while driving in Arizona weeks later.
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