What Impact Could Legalized Marijuana Make Have on DUIs?

Legalization of Marijuana in Arizona

Although Proposition 205 did not pass this year in Arizona, it lost by a narrow margin. Legalization of marijuana could still be in Arizona’s future, which could have many impacts on the laws and regulations that exist today. One of the major concerns is how DUIs would be enforced when it comes to marijuana. This is an important aspect to consider for lawmakers, attorneys and users of marijuana if this substance is legalized in our state.

What Prop 205 Would Have Changed

If Prop 205 would have passed, there would have been many changes to the way that marijuana regulation is handled in Arizona. The proposition would have made it legal for residents over 21 years of age to use, grow and own marijuana in certain quantities. There would have been a Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control created to regulate the sale of marijuana. Marijuana would have been taxed and regulated as a controlled substance.

One gray area with the law was how this would impact DUI prosecution. The proposition made it legal to use marijuana, but how it would be regulated when it came to operating a vehicle was vague. The proposition only stated that it would be illegal to operate a vehicle if impaired by marijuana. However, how that would be exactly measured was still undetermined.

Marijuana-Impaired Driving

Other states that have legalized marijuana already have been dealing with the issues regarding impairment while driving. Alcohol is the only other legal substance that is measured for impairment, but the two substances are very different within the body. While blood alcohol levels can be measured by a breathalyzer or blood test, only a blood or urine test can detect marijuana components. Also, there is not a confirmed scientific link between impairment and blood levels with marijuana like there is with alcohol.

The issue with marijuana blood testing is that marijuana metabolites can stay in the blood much longer, even after the effects have dissipated. Proposition 205 stated that it was not illegal to drive with these metabolites or THC in the blood system, only to drive impaired. Field sobriety tests can be utilized, but the exact levels of metabolites and impairment are not yet determined in Arizona.

Marijuana DUI Prosecution

So, what have other states with legalized marijuana done to regulate driving under the influence of marijuana? In Washington, marijuana was legalized in 2012. Blood tests are mandatory through their implied consent law; drivers must submit to a blood draw just like a breathalyzer for alcohol or lose their license for one year. Only people over the limit are charged with a marijuana DUI.

In Prop 205, the exact THC levels and level of impairment were not determined. If marijuana was to be legalized in Arizona, there are many other factors that would need to be considered. The defense can be made that even if THC levels are above the determined limit, it does not necessarily mean the driver was impaired. As stated before, THC and other marijuana metabolites can remain in the system even when the effects are no longer affecting the person’s driving ability.

Since the initiative did not pass in Arizona, we can only speculate how legalization would impact DUI prosecution in our state. It would depend on what measures were put in place for determining impairment, including blood levels and sobriety field tests. Future propositions may have more concrete stipulations on what is considered impairment to regulate the use of marijuana when driving a vehicle.

Current Arizona Marijuana DUI Laws

Since Prop 205 did not pass, the law in Arizona regarding marijuana use and driving under the influence has not changed. It is still illegal to drive while impaired under marijuana and it is not legal to own or use recreational marijuana. If you are pulled over and the officer suspects you are under the influence of marijuana, they can request a blood test. If THC is found in your blood stream, you may be charged with a drug-related or marijuana DUI, even if you are not impaired. If you have marijuana on you or in your vehicle, you may also be charged with marijuana possession.

If you are charged with a DUI for marijuana use while operating a vehicle, you can face a Class 1 misdemeanor in the state of Arizona. This can include up to six months in jail (10 consecutive days minimum), up to $2,000 in fines/fees, a one year license suspension, drug treatment and an interlock device installation on your vehicle. Our team at Matthew Lopez Law, PLLC can help you fight your DUI charge – call us for a free consultation if you are facing drug possession, DUI or other marijuana-related charges.

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