The Arizona Supreme Court provided a unanimous decision in a recent Marijuana DUI ruling. The court took a closer look at how the AMMA impacts prosecution.
The Supreme Court ruled that Medical Marijuana card holders are not immune from prosecution under the state’s DUI law, which prohibits drivers from having in their blood marijuana or another chemical compound that causes impairment.
At the same time, the court also ruled cardholders, do in fact, have a limited affirmative defense under the AMMA. But it is a limited DUI Defense. The AMMA does not, and does not provide general immunity from prosecution.
If a qualified user is facing marijuana DUI charges, they can provide a evidence or testimony showing they didn’t have a high enough concentration of the active ingredient THC, in Marijuana, to cause driving impairment.
If they are successful in their challenge of impairment, they may avoid a conviction.
This article will cover the following topics:
- Arizona Supreme Court Ruling on Marijuana DUI;
- Impacts of Ruling on Arizona Drivers;
- Affirmative Defenses in Arizona;
- When the Safe Harbor defense for Medical Practitioner Prescribed Drugs applies;
- 5 types of evidence that can be used to provide a showing of non-impairment;
- How many Puff’s does it take to cause Driver Impairment?
- Criminal Defense for Marijuana DUI Charges Mesa AZ
Arizona Supreme Court Case Overview
“Petitioners made no effort to show that the marijuana was in an insufficient concentration to cause impairment.” – Arizona Supreme Court
The case involved two defendants, both charged with two counts of driving under the influence: a violation of A.R.S. § 28-1381(A)(1) and a violation of A.R.S. § 28-1381(A)(3).
The former, (A)(1), prohibits someone from driving while under the influence of any drug if he or she is impaired to the slightest degree.
The latter, (A) (2), prohibits driving while there is any of certain enumerated drugs or their metabolites in the person’s body. Both defendants had taken blood tests that showed they had marijuana and its metabolites in their bodies.
One of the defendants wanted to present evidence of her medical marijuana card in another state, but the municipal court denied her motion. The other held an Arizona medical marijuana card, but the municipal court granted the state’s motion to preclude this evidence from being introduced.
The State dismissed the (A)(1) charge, for driver impairment.
But the defendants were convicted of the (A)(3) charge which states that a person is in violation of a violation of the DUI law if they are driving with any drug found in their system which falls within the state’s drug definitions A.R.S. 13-3401 that includes “Cannabis”.
The defendants appealed to the Maricopa County Superior Court, which affirmed the convictions. They then appealed to the Arizona court of appeals, which ruled that there was no immunity for defendants holding marijuana cards when charged with (A)(3).
The defendants asked the Arizona Supreme Court to review the case.
The Court explained that with an (A)(3) charge, unlike an (A)(1) charge, the state isn’t required to prove actual impairment.
The defenses for these charges are also different. With an (A)(1) charge where a person is in violation of the law if they are driving impaired due to drugs or alcohol. With that, it is not a valid defense against impairment to challenge the violations on the ground that the user has a medical marijuana card.
With the (A)(3) charge involving driving under the influence of the state’s defined drugs, there is an Affirmative Defense available. This defense makes it lawful to drive under the influence of the state’s defined drugs, if they the drugs are prescribed by a licensed doctor.
The Court explained that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) immunizes registered qualifying patients for their medical use of marijuana, but the immunity is limited.
AMMA’s § 36-2802 provides immunity to qualified patients who use marijuana to the extent that a registered qualifying patient shall not be considered to be under the influence of marijuana solely because of the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana that appear in insufficient concentration to cause impairment.
The Court also held that possessing a registry card can create a rebuttable presumption that a particular person is using marijuana as permitted by AMMA, as long as he or she isn’t in possession of more than the permitted amount. This means that the police, prosecution, and court will assume it is true, unless the facts are challenged and proven otherwise.
Generally a defendant may be convicted of an (A)(3) violation if the state is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver had marijuana or an impairing metabolite in her body while driving a vehicle.
As a defense, the defendant may show by a preponderance of the evidence that use was authorized by AMMA, and that the amount of marijuana was not enough to cause impairment. Simply presenting a registry card is not enough to establish this defense.
The defendants argued that it was unfair to place the burden of proof on them because there is no threshold that is commonly accepted as → Continue reading