On April 22, 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court shut down the government’s ability to prosecute Arizona motorists for driving under the influence of marijuana unless the person is impaired at the time of the stop. The ruling focuses on two chemical compounds found in marijuana; Carboxy-THC, which does not cause impairment, or Hydroxy- THC, which does cause impairment. The issue presented was whether the legislature intended to include “its metabolite” in the plural form which would include Carboxy-THC, even though it has proven to be non-impairing.

The term “metabolite,” is not defined by Arizona Statute, which allows the courts to reference dictionaries. The Arizona Supreme Court found that the statutory construction of “its metabolite,” was vague and the arguments of singular verse plural to be non-compelling to the extent necessary to determine the issue at hand. They concluded a secondary analysis of the statute was needed and opinioned that:

Statutes should be construed sensibly to avoid reaching an absurd conclusion. The State’s interpretation that “its metabolite” includes any by product of a drug listed in § 13-3401 found in a driver’s system leads to absurd results. See State v. Estrada, 201 Ariz. 247, 251 ¶ 14, 34 P.3d 356, 360 (2001) (observing that a “result is absurd if it is so irrational, unnatural, or inconvenient that it cannot be supposed to have been within the intention of persons with ordinary intelligence and discretion”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

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. For example, the State acknowledged that, 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.”

The State of Arizona fell back on statutory construction, but logically their argument did not make sense and was exposed by the court. They contended that the legislature intended a law that was directed at impaired driving to also punish drivers that the State cannot prove were under the influence or impaired in any manner while driving. Ultimately, the court found that the legislative intent was to prohibit impaired driving, not simply have a non-impairing metabolite in your body.

This ruling arises from the case of an Arizona man who was stopped by police for speeding and acknowledged having smoked marijuana the night before. Blood tests revealed marijuana compounds in his system, however, not the active form that causes impairment. A County Attorney stated officers will still be able to arrest people for marijuana impairment under the state’s DUI laws. However, crime labs will need to identify whether the blood metabolites are active in order for a person to be charged.

Here at the Rosenstein Law Group, attorney Craig Rosenstein is certified in chemical testing, so he knows how to read test results and how to challenge protocol. This ensures that client’s right’s are not being violated. Furthermore, Attorney Rosenstein is a member of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is working with citizen activists to reform state marijuana laws.