Marijuana and DUI: The Rules Changed
Arizona has historically taken a zero tolerance approach to individuals consuming marijuana and driving; if you are driving a vehicle and have any trace of marijuana in your system you were prosecuted and convicted. There have been several cases whereby the defense argued and proved that not all chemicals released in the body upon ingestion of marijuana have impairing properties. Courts and juries have almost unanimously convicted the defendant based solely on the fact that the person was driving and had THC byproduct in their system.
Drug testing can be misleading because of the different compounds within marijuana such as THC (Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol), which has a psychoactive component, and THC-COOH, which is not a psychoactive component. Most urine tests will not detect THC, but will detect THC –COOH as it has an unusually long elimination period.
So, how does this relate to the DUI laws? The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in April that the DUI law requires the presence of the psychoactive THC and not just any THC component.
THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the active component in THC that can cause impairment. This compound is normally not found in urine testing and usually only lasts in the blood stream for approximately two (2) hours. Therefore, the police are now under a very short window to obtain a driver's blood sample; any delay may result in a negative test result as the body is processing the THC out of the blood stream the whole time the officer is conducting his investigation. So, the police will need to be a little quicker at least until a new faster method of conducting the tests are designed.
While this is absolutely the right ruling it does create some concerns for the average commuting citizen. I commute every day for work and I cannot think of a single day I have not thought at least once, "how did he or she get his or her license" This revision or clarification of the law may encourage some people, especially those with a medical marijuana card, to smoke and drive. I hope I'm wrong, but being under the influence of a psychoactive drug will not help his or her driving.
My advice/request, if you're going to smoke marijuana just stay home or wherever you are when you decide to smoke and take a two (2) hour nap. Thanks from all your fellow drivers.
About the author: Jason B. Castle is a Partner at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He is the President of the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, member of the State Bar of Arizona, and a member of the Maricopa County Bar Association, where he chaired the Family Law Section and Legislative Committee. He has expertise in child custody and Decision Making Authority. More recently he was named a Southwest Super Lawyer Rising Star.