Arizona Medicinal Marijuana Users and DUIs: What is the Consensus?

As medicinal marijuana is slowly being legalized across the country, both lawmakers and law enforcement officials alike are struggling to regulate its presence in drivers’ bodies.

Last week, the Arizona Court of Appeals took a strong stand, ruling that simply because medicinal marijuana is now legal, it does not grant authorized users immunity from DUI prosecution if there is THC compound in their body at the time of arrest.

Is the State Making an Example?

In December 2011, an authorized medicinal marijuana user named Travis Darrah was initially charged with two counts of DUI. One was based on his impairment at the time of arrest, and the other addressed the presence of marijuana metabolite in his system. While Darrah was eventually acquitted of the first charge, he was found guilty under a DUI law that governs driving while there with marijuana in his body.

Darrah quickly appealed, claiming that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) offers immunity from prosecution unless the patients drive while impaired. His argument was that as an authorized user, the state had a burden to prove that he was impaired to the slightest degree.

Therein lies the problem; the state has yet to set a solid level of THC compound in the blood to count as legally impaired. Other states have determined that a concentration of 5.0 or more nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood within two hours of driving serves as proof of impairment, while levels between 2.0 ng/ml and 5.0 ng/ml indicate possible impairment.

At the time of Darrah’s arrest, his bloodwork showed 4.0 ng/ml of THC and 47 ng/ml of carboxy THC, a non-psychoactive metabolite of marijuana. Judge Michael J. Brown of the Arizona Court of Appeals delivered the final decision to uphold Darrah’s original DUI conviction.

What Does This Mean for Other Patients Authorized to Use Medical Marijuana in Arizona?

Darrah’s case had many holes in it, from his relatively high THC concentration to issues with his prescribing doctor, who was not among the approved physicians qualified to certify a user under the statute Darrah’s defense relied upon.

For authorized medicinal marijuana patients in Arizona, the takeaway from Darrah v. Hon. McClennen/City of Mesa is that only THC concentrate, the psychoactive element in marijuana, is to be considered in charges of impairment. Carboxy THC, the inactive metabolite that remains in the bloodstream long after use, is not a valid proof of impairment.

If you have concerns about charges you are facing involving your authorized medicinal marijuana use, call the Phoenix criminal defense attorneys at Curry, Pearson & Wooten today at 602-258-1000.