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Arizona DUI Attorney Forum: How Prop 203 and Medical Marijuana Could Effect Arizona DUI Enforcement

The recent passage of Prop 203 has raised issues and possible misconceptions on how the legalization of medical marijuana will effect Arizona DUI enforcement. The general question is: will a driver be found guilty of a DUI if arrested for a suspected Arizona DUI, but blood tests reveal only THC, and a blood alcohol level below the legal limit?

People who plan to take advantage of medical marijuana through Prop 203 and decide to drive need to recognize the distinction between a drug possession charge and a DUI charge. Prop 203 may shield some people from a possession charge, but it will not shield them from tough Arizona DUI laws.

Although details are yet to be decided, it seems clear that an individual will not face drug possession charges if found in possession of marijuana or with marijuana in their system, as long as they meet the requirements of Prop 203, having a valid prescription from a doctor, and they do not have more than is allowed under that prescription.

This protection from a drug possession charge, however, does little to decrease the possible arrest and penalties for a DUI, even if the driver has no alcohol in their system. The Tiger Woods saga has opened some eyes on the dangers of driving while under the influence of prescription drugs, especially when mixed with alcohol. The legalization of marijuana has essentially changed the charge that someone would face, but has not eliminated the charges, if suspected of a DUI and found with the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, in their system. Marijuana in the system alone can be the basis for an Arizona DUI, just as is the case with Ambien, Xanex, or many other prescriptions that can impair the ability to drive.

Consider this illustration: if you drive past an area with a bar or two at 8 O’clock at night, look down at your stereo and drift ever-so-slightly across a lane line, an officer likely has probable cause to pull you over for a suspected DUI. If you do not perform well enough on some field sobriety tests, you will be arrested and your blood will be drawn. Even if you have no alcohol in your blood, the State can charge you with DUI to the slightest degree based on your driving, your performance on the tests, and the presence of a drug, even a prescription drug, in your system. Arizona DUI laws prohibit you from driving while under the influence of an illegal as well as a prescription drug. If there is evidence to establish that your driving was negatively affected, the amount of a substance found in your blood will only affect the severity of the penalty. Even a .03 blood alcohol is enough for a DUI arrest if other evidence shows that it affected your ability to drive “to the slightest degree”. (Link to slightest degree blog post)

Prop 203 will, if anything, result in a higher number of cases in which people are charged with DUI for driving with marijuana in their system. Because possession will sometimes not be an option for officers due to Prop 203, officers may arrest under DUI laws instead. It remains to be seen how such cases with pan out in court.