Driving with Marijuana Metabolite

In Arizona you can be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) if you are under the influence of any drug, combination of liquor or drugs if it impairs you to the slightest degree, or while there is a drug or metabolite in your body. A.R.S. §§28-1381(A).

Recently in Arizona it has been ruled that you cannot be charged with a DUI just because of a marijuana metabolite alone.1 Such metabolite will stay in your blood stream for 30 days, but the presence of such a metabolite does not mean you should be criminally charged.

Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Laws

In November 2010 Arizona passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) which outlines the regulations for medical marijuana.2 The act designated the Arizona Department of Health Services as the department to come up with the rules and components of the medical marijuana program and to come up with registration and oversight for medical marijuana dispensaries.3 In order to use medical marijuana, you need to be a qualifying patient. Adults can fill out an online application form complete with an attestation form when you are applying for a certification or registration identification card.4 You will need to provide identifying information (such as your name, gender, address, and phone number) as well as whether or not you are requesting authorization to cultivate marijuana plants.5

Arizona has debated whether or not this law provides a sort of immunity to those who drive when they lawfully use medical marijuana. In 2013 the Arizona Court of Appeals has said that there is not a blanket immunity from DUI prosecution if you have a marijuana chemical compound in your body.6 Thus, if you are driving after using medical marijuana you could still be charged under DUI laws that ban having a prohibited compound in your body.7 In this case an Arizona man was pulled over for making unsafe lane changes and charged under Arizona statutes for driving while under the influence of any drug to the slightest degree and for driving with a metabolite in his body because he had “smoked some weed.”8 While the first charge was dismissed, the metabolite charge remained.9 The reasoning behind Judge Michael Brown’s decision was that the medical marijuana statute did not contain specific language concerning protecting medical marijuana users from being punished for driving under the effects of the marijuana metabolite.10

However, this ruling was later reversed in April when the court determined that the phrase “its metabolite” in the Arizona statute was ambiguous and subject to different interpretations.11 The court found that including marijuana metabolites that do not cause impairment is absurd because it would create criminal liability no matter how long the metabolite was in the driver’s system and whether it had any impairing effect.12 The Arizona Supreme Court went on to reference how the AMMA legalized medical marijuana, and thus such usage is legal and should not be criminally prosecuted under Arizona DUI laws.13

If you have been charged with a DUI in Arizona because you ingested marijuana while driving it is best to contact an experienced Arizona DUI attorney. You could be charged under different areas of the DUI statute and your attorney will know how to best defend your case based on your own personal situation.

[1] Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Arizona High Court: Pot Metabolite Doesn’t Prove DUI, azcentral.com (Apr. 22, 2014 10:20 pm), http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2014/04/22/arizona-high-court-pot-metabolite-prove-dui/8011323/.

2 Arizona Department of Health Services, Third Annual Medical Marijuana Report A.R.S. § 36-2809 1 (2014), available at http://www.azdhs.gov/medicalmarijuana/documents/reports/2014/az-medical-marijuana-program-annual-report-2014.pdf.

3 Id.

4 Arizona Medical Marijuana Program, azdhs.gov, http://www.azdhs.gov/medicalmarijuana/patients/adult.htm (last visited Nov. 25, 2014).

5 Medical Marijuana Program Qualifying Patient Checklist, azdhs.gov, http://www.azdhs.gov/medicalmarijuana/documents/patients/adult-patient-application-checklist.pdf (last updated Jan. 30, 2014).

6 Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Court: Marijuana Law Doesn’t Give DUI Immunity, azcentral.com (Oct. 21, 2014 4:12 pm), http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2014/10/21/court-marijuana-law-doesnt-give-dui-immunity/17681673/.

7 Id.

8 State ex rel. Montgomery v. Harris, 234 Ariz. 343, 343, 322 P.3d 160 (2014).

9 Id. at 343.

10 Hunter Schwarz, Medical Marijuana Licenses Don’t Protect You From Getting A DUI, Court Rules, washingtonpost.com, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/10/22/medical-marijuana-licenses-dont-protect-you-from-getting-a-dui-court-rules/ (last visited Nov. 25, 2014).

11 Harris, supra note 8 at 345.

12 Id. at 346.

13 See id.