Pubdate: Wed, 23 Apr 2014
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez
Page: A10
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


State Supreme Court Says Inactive Marijuana Traces Do Not Prove Impairment.

Motorists who have used marijuana cannot be charged with driving 
under the influence on that basis alone, even if some traces of the 
drug are detected in their blood, the state's top court ruled Tuesday.

Arizona Supreme Court justices disagreed with the Maricopa County 
Attorney Office, which argued before the court in November, that 
drivers whose blood tests reveal the presence of an inactive 
marijuana metabolite known as Carboxy-THC can be prosecuted for 
driving while impaired.

The court was unconvinced the mere presence of the metabolite, which 
can remain in the bloodstream for 30 days, is valid evidence of impairment.

The court wrote that marijuana users break the law if they drive 
while "impaired to the slightest degree" and if they are discovered 
with metabolites in their system that are known to impair. But, wrote 
Justice Robert Brutinel, drivers cannot be convicted "based merely on 
the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior 
usage of marijuana."

The opinion affects motorists who use marijuana illegally, as well as 
the estimated 40,000 people who participate in the state's 
medical-marijuana program. Those cardholders are legally allowed to 
ingest pot to treat ailments ranging form chronic pain to glaucoma, 
and many of those cardholders have argued that traces of metabolites 
do not prove impairment.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement that the 
court had engaged in "interpretive jujitsu." The court should have 
asked the state Legislature to clarify whether it contemplated 
impairment based on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite, 
Montgomery wrote.

"By acting as it has, our State Supreme Court contributes to citizen 
cynicism particularly when it involves the whys and wherefores of 
drafting and passing legislation," he wrote. "Why should citizens 
work through our republican form of government and petition their 
duly elected legislators for statutory change when they can take a 
shot at only having to persuade just three Justices?"

The ruling stems from the case of Hrach Shilgevorkyan, who was pulled 
over for speeding and making unsafe lane changes. The driver admitted 
to smoking "some weed" the night before and volunteered to take a 
blood test, which revealed the presence of Carboxy-THC.

He was charged with driving with an illegal drug or metabolite in his 
body. A judge threw out the charges.

The Arizona Supreme Court concluded in Tuesday's ruling that 
interpreting the law so that any byproduct of cannabis proves 
impairment "leads to absurd results."

"Most notably, this interpretation would create criminal liability 
regardless of how long the metabolite remains in the driver's system 
or whether it has any impairing effect," the Supreme Court's ruling 
said. "For example, at oral argument the State acknowledged that, 
under its reading of the statute, if a metabolite could be detected 
five years after ingesting a proscribed drug, a driver who tested 
positive for trace elements of a non-impairing substance could be prosecuted."

Additionally, the court wrote, "this interpretation would criminalize 
otherwise legal conduct."
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