Pubdate: Sat, 22 Sep 2012
Source: Eastern Arizona Courier (AZ)
Copyright: 2012 Eastern Arizona Courier
Author: Jon Johnson

Medical Marijuana DUI's Still Hazy Area:


The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act allows state-issued cardholders to 
possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks. Patients in the 
Gila Valley have their driving privileges revoked, however, over what 
appears to either be an issue of semantics or of government officials 
simply ignoring a law passed by the residents of Arizona because they 
do not agree with it.

The AMMA protects patients from discrimination regarding housing and 
employment. When it comes to driving with the metabolite in a 
person's system, however, local law enforcement will not apply the 
same rules as it does in regard to prescription medication and will 
issue a citation for DUI-drug even if there is no impairment to the 
driver, thus breaking the spirit of the new law.

Arizona is one of nine states that sanction drivers from operating a 
motorized vehicle if they have a detectable level of a controlled 
substance or its metabolites in their bodily fluids. According to the 
Arizona Revised Statute 28-1381, it is unlawful for a person to drive 
a vehicle while under the influence of any drug, or combination of 
liquor and/or drugs if the person is impaired to the slightest 
degree, or while there is any drug defined in section 13-3401 or its 
metabolite in the person's body. The list of drugs defined includes 
illicit and prescription-only drugs.

Law enforcement in the Gila Valley, including the Arizona Depart-ment 
of Public Safety, has chosen to ignore placing any medical value to 
cannabis and will issue a medical marijuana cardholder a DUI-drug 
citation simply upon admission of using the drug, no matter if the 
last time a person used it was more than a week ago and could not 
possibly be driving under its influence. "If they have marijuana in 
their system, they ought not to be driving," Graham County Sheriff 
P.J. Allred said.

The Graham County Attorney's office supports this stand because the 
patients receive their state-issued cards on the basis of a doctor's 
recommendation and not a prescription. Doctors can only recommend 
medical marijuana and not give a prescription because the federal 
government lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug with no accepted 
medical use. Because of the wording, Graham County prosecutors hold 
the opinion that it is a strict liability offense, which means if a 
person drives in the state of Arizona with a cannabis metabolite in 
his/her system, that individual has committed a DUI-drug offense 
regardless of whether the suspect has a medical marijuana card.

Persons holding a prescription for a drug, including powerful opiates 
like Oxycodone and morphine, are excluded from prosecution of a 
DUI-drug merely by having the drug or its metabolite in their system, 
and prosecutors must show impairment for a conviction. Local defense 
attorneys are of the opinion that the same law should apply to 
medical marijuana cardholders because the doctor is essentially 
prescribing them cannabis to use as medication even if they are bound 
by federal law to call it a recommendation. Defense attorneys argue 
that having a card is an affirmative defense, and the state would 
have to show that the drug actually impaired a suspect's driving.

As cases begin to be litigated through the system, it appears that 
the issue will have to be settled through the Court of Appeals and 
the Arizona Supreme Court. Until then, patients with medical 
marijuana cards take the risk of being arrested for a DUI-drug every 
time they operate a motor vehicle.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom