State Supreme Court Debates Medical Marijuana And Driving

Apr 1, 2013

The state's high court is being asked to effectively decide whether anyone who smokes marijuana can ever legally drive in this state. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer explains.

The case involves a man stopped by sheriff's deputies for speeding. A blood test revealed Carboxy-THC in his blood, a metabolite of the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, resulting in a charge of driving under the influence of drugs. But a lower court judge threw it out based on testimony that this particular metabolite can remain in someone's system for up to a month after marijuana has been used. More to the point, it is not considered psychoactive. The appellate court reinstated the charge. Now, the driver's lawyer wants the Supreme Court to intercede.

But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the Legislature is free to declare that anyone with any level of any form of THC in the blood is impaired. He said it's not like alcohol where there's a clear point at which someone is considered impaired. "We don't know at what rate most of the population would be able to break down marijuana until it was in a non-psychoactive element."

Montgomery acknowledged that the appellate ruling could mean someone who has used the drug - even legally under the state's medical marijuana law - might be at permanent risk of arrest for getting behind the wheel. "Yeah, there's a right to travel," Montgomery said. "But no court has ever found that there is a right to a driver's license, that that's still a privilege."

The high court has not decided whether to take the case.