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Is It Legal to Drive Under the Influence of Marijuana?

By The Husband and Wife Law Team on October 22, 2018

Updated on January 7, 2021

On November 3rd, 2020, Proposition 207 was passed in Arizona, making marijuana legal for recreational use for the very first time. Until this, marijuana was only legal for medical use, and those who wanted to use it had to obtain a medical marijuana card.

Under Prop 207, only people over the age of 21 are allowed to use marijuana, like alcohol. This is a big leap for marijuana in Arizona, but how does it impact DUI laws around marijuana use? It is now legal to drive while under the influence of marijuana?

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

The short answer is no. Similar to how it is legal to drink alcohol but not legal to drive while drunk, it will be legal to use marijuana, but not to drive while high. Driving while under the influence of such a powerful drug is incredibly dangerous, and will remain punishable by a fine, jail sentence, and license revocation.

However, there is a problem with the current marijuana DUI system. With alcohol, a chemical test can accurately tell an officer whether or not a driver is truly drunk, or over the .08% blood alcohol content (BAC) limit. That is because alcohol is quickly filtered out of the body by the liver in a matter of hours. If a driver’s BAC levels come back over .08%, then the officer knows right away that the driver is drunk and can issue an arrest.

That is not the case for marijuana. A DUI for marijuana is sometimes referred to as a metabolite DUI, as “metabolite” is the substance that chemical tests check for when measuring whether someone is high. A metabolite is a chemical that your body produces when you consume or smoke marijuana and can be measured through different chemical tests involving your hair, blood, saliva, and urine.

Unlike a BAC test, a metabolite test does not truly indicate whether or not someone is “high,” or in an altered state of mind. Metabolites can remain in the body long after the effects of the cannabis have worn off. This means you might have smoked marijuana the night before, gotten in your car in the morning, been pulled over, and still tested positive for metabolites, despite being sober.

It is still unclear how these DUI laws will change with the passing of Prop 207. Currently, marijuana DUI laws center around those with medical marijuana cards.

Current Marijuana DUI Laws

Currently, there is a state accident report for police to fill out that has a spot to indicate suspected marijuana use, and whether or not the driver is carrying a valid medical marijuana card. Some people may be operating vehicles while abusing drugs and alcohol, but other drivers have a legal medical reason to be under the influence of marijuana. This form allows agencies to track accidents involving people who are using medical marijuana, and lets officials know how it affects Arizona’s roadways.

If you have been issued a ticket or an arrest for a “Marijuana DUI” and you have a medical marijuana card, then you will be given the chance to defend yourself. This process is referred to as “affirmative defense.” As you can be arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana despite being completely sober, the affirmative defense process gives those with a medical marijuana card the chance to make their case and explain how their metabolite rate does not actually reflect that they were incapacitated.

The affirmative defense may be extended to everyone charged with a marijuana DUI following the passing of Prop 207, as those with medical marijuana cards will no longer be the only ones legally allowed to consume marijuana. However, Arizona is still a zero-tolerance state, meaning anyone under the age of 21 caught driving while high or drunk will face serious consequences.

Are These New Laws Dangerous?

While some fear that recreational marijuana use will increase accidents in Arizona, numbers from other states show this isn’t likely. The American Journal of Public Health in 2017 wrote that, “Three years after recreational marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates from Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization.”

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, alcohol-related accident accounted for 26% of all fatal crashes in 2019. On the other hand, drivers under the influence of marijuana only accounted for .04% of all fatal accidents in the same year. While recreational use was not legal at that point in time, it is unlikely the number will spike to meet the percentage of alcohol-related collisions.

Time will tell how marijuana impacts the safety of Arizona roadways. These accident numbers are likely to rise at least somewhat given that far more people will be able to legally use marijuana in the coming years, although advocates and lawmakers are hopeful they will stay on the low side.

If you are injured by a driver who is suspected to be under the influence of drugs, it’s important to contact The Husband and Wife Law Team at the Breyer Law Offices, P.C., as soon as possible. We can work to gather facts from the sobriety tests police conduct to determine whether the other driver was operating the vehicle legally or not. Then, we will work to get you a settlement that helps pay your bills and get you the compensation that you deserve. Call us at (602) 457-6222 today!

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