| Introduction | DUI Law | Penalties | Medical Marijuana |
Arizona DUI law has three separate components: (1.) driving under the influence of alcohol greater than 0.08%, (2.) driving while impaired to the slightest degree and (3.) driving with traceable drug metabolites. As you can imagine, the latter components defines charges associated with driving under the influence of drugs in Arizona.
Arizona does not take DUI lightly. Even first time DUI charges carry strict penalties, including mandatory incarceration and significant fines. This is also true in the case of drug DUI. A first time offender convicted of driving under the influence of a drug may face a 6 month period of incarceration, license suspension, and significant monetary fines. An experienced DUI attorney can likely reduce these penalties significantly.
The A.R.S defines DUI / DWI in several different ways in order to include all possible scenarios. The most commonly known statute section refers to driving under the influence of alcohol, stating it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle “If the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more within two hours of driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle and the alcohol concentration results from alcohol consumed either before or while driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle.”
What many don’t know is that there are two other sections of the statute that prohibits driving under the influence of a drug or intoxicating substance. These sections state that it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle under the following conditions:
- While under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance or any combination of liquor, drugs or vapor releasing substances if the person is impaired to the slightest degree.
- While there is any drug defined in section 13-3401 or its metabolite in the person’s body.
These demonstrate Arizona’s “Zero-Tolerance” policy for driving under the influence of an unlawful drug. If you are found driving a motor vehicle with any drug or its metabolite in your system, regardless of whether you are deemed impaired, you may be charged with DUI.
Some drugs included in this law include: marijuana, cocaine, benzodiazepines, methamphetamines, nitrous oxide, psilocybin hallucinogenic mushrooms, ecstasy, or opiates (hydrocodone, oxycodone, and heroin). It is important to note that the broad definition above can be interpreted to include any intoxicating substance, not just those that are illegal. This includes over the counter medications.
If a law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that you are under the influence of an intoxicating substance, they will likely conduct a field sobriety test. This is a test used to judge reactions and reflexes and may include the following: heel-to-toe test, the finger-to-nose test, a one leg stand, alphabet recitation, or the “nystagmus” test which looks at eye movement. If they believe you are impaired, they may ask you to submit to a blood or urine screening
Drug DUI can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. In most cases, an individual will face class 1 misdemeanor charges if charged with driving while impaired in the slightest degree by an intoxicating substance or with the metabolite of an illegal drug in their system. The maximum penalties for drug DUI (class 1 misdemeanor) are as follows:
|Offense||Jail Min||Jail Max||Fine Min||Loss License||Ignition Interlock||Alcohol Counseling|
|1st||1 day||6 months||$1,460||30-90 days||Discretionary||Discretionary|
|2nd||30 days||6 months||$3,420||45-365 days||Discretionary||Discretionary|
The adoption of marijuana for medicinal use has led to recent controversy regarding the current Arizona DUI laws. As it is currently written, A.R.S §28-1381 A(3) states that it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle “while there is any drug defined in A.R.S § 13-3401 or its metabolite in the person’s body.” Because many prescription drugs are included in A.R.S § 13-3401, there is a further clause which protects patients who are using this drug according to their doctor’s prescription from prosecution under this statute.
What about medical marijuana? The problem is primarily one of semantics. As currently written, Arizona medical marijuana law does not allow medical professionals to write prescriptions for marijuana. Instead, they can simply recommend its use via application to Arizona Department of Health Services. This means that medical marijuana patients are not afforded the above protection and can be charges with “Zero-Tolerance” marijuana DUI.
The difficult portion of the equation is the, after using marijuana, the metabolites can be recovered in blood or urine samples for a period of weeks. This is long after the effects of cognitive impairment have resolved. Theoretically, an individual may face DUI charges for the state-approved use of medical marijuana several weeks prior. In February, this law was upheld by the Arizona Court of Appeals, but it is currently under further scrutiny. We expect amendments to this statute in the near future.
Of final note is the importance that this controversy applies only to those not impaired at the time of driving, who are facing charges for the presence of a drug metabolite in their system. Despite its recent adoption for medicinal purposes, marijuana is still an impairing substance. Caution should be taken to avoid driving when cognitive ability is impaired to prevent disastrous consequences. This is no different than other prescription medications, including narcotic pain relievers and anxiolytic medications.
If you are currently facing charges related to driving under the influence of a drug or driving with the presence of drug metabolites in bodily fluids, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to obtain the best possible outcome in your case.