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AZ Supreme Court: Non-Impairing Marijuana Metabolites Cannot be Basis for DUI Conviction

A divided Arizona Supreme Court significantly limited the scope of Arizona Driving Under the Influence laws in a decision published last week.

Under the pertinent section of the DUI statute, driving is prohibited “While there is any drug…or its metabolite in the person’s body.”  A.R.S. § 28-1381(a)(3).  Past Arizona cases have determined that the term “metabolite” included those metabolites that do not indicate impairment, and therefore the presence of non-impairing metabolites (including Carboxy-THC, which can stay in the system for several weeks after ingestion) could result in a DUI conviction under the statute.

The Arizona Supreme Court decision in State v. Montgomery has overruled such cases.  Determining that the legislature intended the DUI statute to combat “impaired driving”, the Court conclusively found that “[d]rivers cannot be convicted of the…offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.”

In explaining its decision, the Court noted that if non-impairing metabolites could result in a DUI conviction, “a medical-marijuana user could face prosecution for driving any time nearly a month after they had legally ingested marijuana.”  Additionally, the court stated that certain illegal drugs share non-impairing metabolites with legal substances.  For example, serotonin and the hallucinogen bufotenine share a common metabolite.  Therefore, a driver could be prosecuted for DUI after ingesting a serotonin supplement (or even from metabolizing naturally-produced serotonin).  The Supreme Court labeled these prospective results as “absurd.”

The Court’s ruling does not appear to differentiate between legal or illegal ingestion of drugs.  That is, if only a non-impairing metabolite is present, a conviction for violation of A.R.S. § 28-1381(a)(3) cannot be had, regardless of whether the driver was using marijuana legally (under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act) or illegally.

It is important to remember that this ruling does not apply to every marijuana DUI case.  Importantly, the smallest trace amounts of an impairing metabolite could still result in conviction under this section of the statute.  Additionally, this ruling does not address the “impaired to the slightest degree” section of the statute (A.R.S. 28-1381(a)(1)), and may have no bearing on that section.

“Your Hometown Law Firm” asks that members of the greater Prescott community be cautious and responsible.  If you do find yourself facing DUI charges, call Prescott Law Group at (928) 445-1909 for aggressive, knowledgeable representation.

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