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Drivers in Arizona can continue to be prosecuted for driving under the influence (DUI) of marijuana even if the only proof is a blood test that shows a chemical compound that doesn't cause impairment but can remain in the blood for a month, a state appellate court has ruled.
The Court ruling overturns a decision by a lower court judge who said it didn't make sense to prosecute a person for DUI with no evidence they're driving under the influence of marijuana.
The lower court judge cited the proliferation of states easing their marijuana laws, but the Court of Appeals ruling issued dismissed that by saying Arizona's medical marijuana law is irrelevant when it comes DUI. The Legislature adopted the decades-old comprehensive DUI law to protect public safety, so a provision on prohibited substances and their resulting chemical compounds should be interpreted broadly to include inactive compounds as well as active ones, the Court of Appeals said.
The case stems from a 2010 DUI traffic stop. The driver's blood test revealed only a chemical compound that is found in the blood after another compound produced from ingesting marijuana breaks down. According to testimony by a prosecution criminalist at the DUI trial, the compound found in the driver's blood doesn't impair the ability to drive but can remain detectable for four weeks.
The driver's DUI Defense Lawyer argued the state's DUI law bars only marijuana and "its metabolite," so only the first derivative compound that actually impairs drivers is prohibited. Two lower court judges agreed, with one upholding the other's dismissal of the DUI charge against the driver.
Superior Court Commissioner Myra Harris' ruling noted that several states have decriminalized pot, and that a growing number of states, including Arizona, have legalized medical marijuana. "Residents of these states, particularly those geographically near Arizona, are likely to travel to Arizona," Harris said in her 2012 ruling upholding the DUI charge dismissal. "It would be irrational for Arizona to prosecute a defendant for an act that might have occurred outside of Arizona several weeks earlier."
However, the Court of Appeals sided with prosecutors who appealed, saying that allowing the testing for marijuana's active compound in DUI investigations would unduly restrict law enforcement. The ruling said it serves the Legislature's intention to have a flat ban on driving under the influence to interpret the DUI law's reference to a prohibited substance and "its metabolite" as covering both a substance's active and inactive compound.
The driver's DUI defense lawyer said he'll ask the Arizona Supreme Court to consider an appeal. He added the testing issue is increasingly important because people legally using pot in two Western states — Washington and Colorado — that last year approved marijuana decriminalization laws could be convicted of DUI if arrested while driving in Arizona weeks later.