In what could set a precedent, a Court of Appeals in Arizona has ruled that users of medical marijuana cannot be found guilty of driving while under the influence of marijuana without proof that they are actually impaired.
Prosecutors Must Provide Expert Testimony on Each Defendant’s Impairment
Arizona does not have a law that sets a specific threshold of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in a person’s body to be convicted of driving while under the influence of marijuana. For each case where a medical marijuana user has been charged with driving while under the influence of marijuana, the prosecution will need to provide expert testimony that shows exactly how that particular defendant was impaired by a specific level of THC.
The prosecution cannot assume that any arbitrary level of THC in someone’s system means that the person is impaired, providing grounds for convicting a defendant.
Defendant in Case Admitted to Smoking Marijuana
The defendant in the case on which the Court of Appeals ruled was pulled over in 2013 after an officer reportedly saw the defendant’s vehicle drift outside of his lane. The driver admitted to police that he had smoked marijuana that morning. The officer reported that the defendant had body and eye tremors and bloodshot eyes during a field sobriety test.
The man was charged with driving with marijuana in his body and driving while impaired to the slightest degree. On the first charge, jurors found the defendant guilty. This was even though the man had a medical marijuana card. However, the city judge presiding over the case would not allow the jury to hear that the man had a medical marijuana card. If the judge had allowed the jury to hear this, they would have known that he could legally use marijuana.
The city judge had ruled that “it was up to [the defendant] to prove he was not impaired.” The prosecutor had stated, “It’s irrelevant whether a defendant is actually impaired ... and suggested the 2010 law means medical cannabis cardholders have to prove through expert testimony that THC in their blood does not cause impairment in people generally or in any person.”
Higher Courts Refuse to Allow Local Prosecutors to Criminalize Medical Marijuana Patients
As a result of this ruling and other similar rulings, local prosecutors cannot criminalize people simply because they have a medical marijuana card. If you or a loved one find yourself facing DWI charges because you have such a card, get the help of an experienced attorney. You have rights, including the right to receive medical treatment that is controversial, but certainly not criminal.
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