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High Court: Drugged driving charge stands, despite prior time of use

In Arizona, it is illegal to use marijuana recreationally or possess it without a medical use card. Drug possession can lead to criminal charges, which are typically heightened if a person is arrested for driving with the illegal substance in their system. The immediate effects of the drug include disorientation, diminished mental capacity, impairment of physical coordination, and sleepiness. The presence of its active ingredient, THC, remains in the body for a much longer than the immediate effects last, however, making arrests for drugged driving somewhat problematic.

A recent case involving a driver who was given a blood test upon receiving a traffic citation and tested positive for Carboxy-THC, a marijuana metabolite, is raising a number of constitutional questions. The motorist received an additional charge for driving with an illegal substance in his system, even though it was allegedly from marijuana use a month prior. The trial judge dismissed the drug charge, but upon appeal it was upheld. The case eventually made its way to the Arizona Supreme Court. Prosecutors argued that the law should be interpreted broadly and even though the presence of the metabolite does not indicate that a driver is impaired, there is nothing unconstitutional about charging someone who may have smoked the substance 30 days ago with impaired driving. Opposing counsel argued otherwise. While the high court sympathized with both sides, it ultimately ruled that it is up to the Legislature to define the time parameter as it is a policy question. This ruling could have long-reaching effects, even for those who use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Anyone who faces drugged driving charges for having Carboxy-THC in their body would be well advised to consult with an attorney. There are still legal defense strategies that could effectively get the charges dropped. 

Source: Arizona Daily Star, “Evidence of pot smoking weeks earlier enough for DUI charge, state says,” Howard Fischer, Nov. 6, 2013.

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