Although medical marijuana is legal in Arizona, federal law still defines it as an illegal substance. Because of this, there's still a lot of ambiguity regarding the legality of marijuana use. A recent appeals court ruling limits prosecutors' ability to charge patients with driving under the influence of marijuana.
Appeals Court Overturns Marijuana Conviction
In the original case, Nadir Ishak was charged with driving while impaired and with having marijuana in his system while driving. He was acquitted of the first charge, but convicted of the second.
The Court of Appeals overturned the decision to convict him on the second charge. While Arizona's medical marijuana law does prohibit driving under the influence, it does not define a level of metabolites at which a person can be considered legally impaired. That's because marijuana components can remain in the body days or weeks after its effects have worn off. As appellate Judge Diane Johnsen wrote for the majority, “There is no scientific consensus about the concentration of THC that generally is sufficient to impair a human being.”
During the appeal, both sides presented expert testimony. However, the prosecutor's expert failed to convince the judges that there was a strong enough scientific basis to conclude Ishak was impaired.
What the Ruling Means for Prosecutors
The majority decision means that prosecutors now have to prove that the defendant was impaired at the time of arrest. They cannot rely on a legal limit, because Arizona has none. Instead, they have to prove with expert testimony that a particular individual was impaired. Importantly, the burden of proof is not on the defendant.
Any legal drug that causes impairment can be grounds for a DUI charge. Because there are no legal limits established for prescription medications, pursuing these charges raises similar challenges for prosecutors.
This case proves that interpretations of the law vary, and the appeals process exists to clarify interpretations. Whether you are facing charges or wondering if you are eligible for an appeal, contact Garcia Law for assistance.