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Court ruling is a setback for prosecuting marijuana DUI charges

The legalization of marijuana for medical use in Arizona has created a whole new set of issues regarding marijuana DUI charges. Now, a recent court ruling will make it more difficult for prosecutors to convict individuals who are driving under the influence of marijuana with a DUI if they have a medical marijuana card.

Reported recently in Tucson .com, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that, "medical marijuana users cannot be convicted of driving while under the influence of the drug absent proof that they were actually impaired."

What exactly, though, does this ruling mean, and how will it affect the way marijuana DUI cases are prosecuted in the state of Arizona?

Understanding THC levels relative to impairment

Unlike many states, Arizona does not have a legal limit of THC in the bloodstream at which it becomes illegal to operate a motor vehicle. Instead, Arizona DUI cases are prosecuted based on impairment. While this may make it more difficult for prosecutors to convict someone who is driving under the influence of marijuana with a DUI, it is arguably the better way to go about judging a person's ability to drive under the influence of cannabis as there are no studies that correlate impairment to a specific level as in alcohol cases.

The reality is that marijuana affects everyone differently. THC levels that would significantly impair and affect the motor skills of one person may have little impact on the reaction time and motor skills of another person. Appellate Judge Diane Johnsen wrote, "And, according to evidence here, there is no scientific consensus about the concentration of THC that generally is sufficient to impair a human being."

In Arizona, THC levels cannot be used as proof that a person was impaired. Instead, impairment must be proven on a case by case basis. Now, though, thanks to a recent ruling, the burden of that proof has been shifted back to the Prosecution where it belongs.

Shifting the burden of proof

While there has never been a legal limit in regards to the THC levels of a person charged with drugged-driving in Arizona, the burden of proof has, in the past, been placed on the defendant. This means that it was up to the defendant to prove that they were not impaired at the time they were operating their vehicle.

Following the 2-1 decision in Nadir Ishak's case before the Court of Appeals, though, this burden of proof has been shifted. Writing for the majority, Diane Johnsen said that the trial judge in Ishak's case made an error in ruling that it was up to Ishak to prove that he was not impaired. Instead, she said that the burden of proving impairment fell on the prosecution.

This is a significant change for medical marijuana users in Arizona, as proving impairment (or the lack thereof) is a separate task. Requiring the prosecution to prove impairment as opposed to requiring the defendant to prove that they were not impaired will shift that challenge to the prosecution and make it more difficult to wrongfully convict medical marijuana users in Arizona who have been charged with a DUI for merely having the residue of the substance in their system.

The Court of Appeals decision in Nadir Ishak's case certainly bolsters the defense of medical marijuana users in Arizona who are fighting a DUI charge. If you have been wrongfully charged with driving under the influence of marijuana in Arizona and feel as if there is no proof that you were impaired, we invite you to contact us today.

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