The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act allows state-issued cardholders to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks. Patients in the Gila Valley have their driving privileges revoked, however, over what appears to either be an issue of semantics or of government officials simply ignoring a law passed by the residents of Arizona because they do not agree with it.
The AMMA protects patients from discrimination regarding housing and employment. When it comes to driving with the metabolite in a person's system, however, local law enforcement will not apply the same rules as it does in regard to prescription medication and will issue a citation for DUI-drug even if there is no impairment to the driver, thus breaking the spirit of the new law.
Arizona is one of nine states that sanction drivers from operating a motorized vehicle if they have a detectable level of a controlled substance or its metabolites in their bodily fluids.
According to the Arizona Revised Statute 28-1381, it is unlawful for a person to drive a vehicle while under the influence of any drug, or combination of liquor and/or drugs if the person is impaired to the slightest degree, or while there is any drug defined in section 13-3401 or its metabolite in the person's body. The list of drugs defined includes illicit and prescription-only drugs.
Law enforcement in the Gila Valley, including the Arizona Depart-ment of Public Safety, has chosen to ignore placing any medical value to cannabis and will issue a medical marijuana cardholder a DUI-drug citation simply upon admission of using the drug, no matter if the last time a person used it was more than a week ago and could not possibly be driving under its influence.
"If they have marijuana in their system, they ought not to be driving," Graham County Sheriff P.J. Allred said.
The Graham County Attorney's office supports this stand because the patients receive their state-issued cards on the basis of a doctor's recommendation and not a prescription. Doctors can only recommend medical marijuana and not give a prescription because the federal government lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug with no accepted medical use. Because of the wording, Graham County prosecutors hold the opinion that it is a strict liability offense, which means if a person drives in the state of Arizona with a cannabis metabolite in his/her system, that individual has committed a DUI-drug offense regardless of whether the suspect has a medical marijuana card.
Persons holding a prescription for a drug, including powerful opiates like Oxycodone and morphine, are excluded from prosecution of a DUI-drug merely by having the drug or its metabolite in their system, and prosecutors must show impairment for a conviction. Local defense attorneys are of the opinion that the same law should apply to medical marijuana cardholders because the doctor is essentially prescribing them cannabis to use as medication even if they are bound by federal law to call it a recommendation. Defense attorneys argue that having a card is an affirmative defense, and the state would have to show that the drug actually impaired a suspect's driving.
As cases begin to be litigated through the system, it appears that the issue will have to be settled through the Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court. Until then, patients with medical marijuana cards take the risk of being arrested for a DUI-drug every time they operate a motor vehicle.