Taking two steps back: Arizona court deals hard blow to pot smokers

The state of Arizona is one of the toughest states across the nation for DUI laws. Arizona state legislatives have fought vigorously to implement strict penalties for those caught driving under the influence. And, it seems, the Arizona courts are also following suit.

A recent decision handed down by an Arizona Court of Appeals stipulates a zero-tolerance policy for drivers found with any traces of drugs in their system.

The decision

The Arizona Court of Appeals, Division 1, recently issued a ruling that will not only affect potential DUI suspects but also marijuana consumers in general. The court recently ruled that authorities in Arizona can prosecute drivers for DUI pulled over and found with traces of pot in their system even if there was no evidence of the drivers' impairment at the time of the stop.

Understanding how the body processes alcohol and marijuana

The problem lies with determining whether a driver is actually under the influence of marijuana at the time he or she was pulled over.

Typically a breath, blood or urine test is given to any driver pulled over for suspected DUI. This applies to drivers found driving under the influence of alcohol-or drugs like marijuana. However, proving impairment with marijuana is a bit more complicated than proving impairment with alcohol.

Alcohol doesn't remain in the human body long after being consumed, therefore rendering a positive test of intoxication is likely to be reliable. However, a particular chemical compound known as Carboxy-THC found in pot can stay in a person's system weeks after they've smoked.

So a driver can test positive for marijuana when they are pulled over but they may not necessarily be impaired.

As one Mesa DUI attorney puts it, "If the average recreational smoker smoked a marijuana joint, they could have the active, impairing substances in their system for no longer than twelve hours, but could wake up sober and still have Carboxy-THC in their system for up to three to four weeks after they got high."

Prior decision

And, prior to the Court of Appeals decision, a previous trial court agreed on this very preposition and ruled that the presence of Carboxy-THC alone is not sufficient enough to support a DUI conviction in Arizona.

However, the Court of Appeals disagreed. In their ruling, the court essentially stated that as long as there is some evidence that any compound of the drug was in the driver's system at the time he or she was pulled over for suspected impaired driving, it is sufficient to convict him or her for DUI.

So, essentially, authorities no longer have to prove the driver was under the influence of marijuana in Arizona at the time of the arrest.

Repercussions of the new ruling

The ruling offers a drastic blow to drivers suspected of DUI. As one Arizona DUI attorney says, "It is easy to take a blanket position of being tough on DUI drugs, but punishing people who are driving sober seems like it has gone too far."

Additionally, the new law is likely to affect tourism within the state. If individuals driving through or vacationing within Arizona's borders realize they could face DUI charges-even if they are stone-cold sober-they are likely to refrain from visiting the state.