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Arizona Court Overturns Marijuana Ruling
Posted by Charles Esslinger on Apr 25th, 2014

According to the Arizona Supreme Court, authorities can no long prosecute motorists for driving under the influence of marijuana unless the person is impaired at the time of the stop. The ruling, which overturned a state Court of Appeals decision from last year, means that authorities can no long prosecute marijuana users for DUI if there is no evidence of impairment.

In Arizona, the debate over medical marijuana has always been contentious. Some state lawmakers believe that anyone who uses the drug, even for medicinal purposes, should not be allowed to drive without facing DUI charges. To medical marijuana advocates, that would amount to criminalizing the use of a drug that voters already approved in 2010. Now, the state's Supreme Court seems to have settled the issue. In its interpretation, the court explained that while state statues make it illegal for a driver to be impaired by marijuana, the presence of the substance in and of itself does not constitute impairment under the law.

Currently, there are 21 states in the country that have made it legal for their residents to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Another two states, Washington and Colorado, recently decided to legalize the drug for adults over the age of 21. However, despite the growing acceptance of medical and legalized marijuana, there is still no nationwide standard for how to determine if someone is operating a vehicle while under the influence of the drug.

In some states, authorities must observe signs of impairment before a person can be charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. In other states, there is zero tolerance for the presence of any marijuana in the blood, regardless of whether or not the active compounds that cause impairment are present. In lieu of a a zero-tolerance policy, some states have set limits, designed to mirror drunk driving laws, for how much marijuana can be in a person's system.

In Tuesday's ruling, Arizona's Supreme Court seemed to move the state away from a zero-tolerance policy. The court's decision, which claimed that the state's marijuana statue is unnecessarily vague, arose from a case in which an Arizona man was stopped by police for speeding. The man, who admitted to smoking marijuana the night before, was charged with DUI when his blood tests revealed that there were marijuana compounds in his system. The compounds, however, were not indicative of impairment.

During the case, Arizona's Supreme Court focused on the ambiguity of the state's medical marijuana statues. Justices noted that the current laws fail to make the distinction between the marijuana metabolite that causes impairment than the one that does not. That type of interpretation “leads to absurd results,” the high court wrote. “Most notably, this interpretation would create criminal liability regardless of how long the metabolite remains in the driver's system or whether it has any impairing effect.”

As you might expect, not everyone was happy with the Supreme Court's ruling. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he was disappointed with the decision and believes the issue should have been left up the the legislature. However, for the attorney who represented the defendant in the case, Michael Alarid III, the ruling is a matter of justice. “This does have far-reaching impacts in medical marijuana patients,” he said. “And it basically corrects an error in the interpretation of the law.”


Sources:

The Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/arizona-marijuana-dui_n_5194104.html