Arizona Lacks Legal Limit For Marijuana Use While Driving

By Phil Latzman
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Monday, July 4, 2016 - 3:42pm
Updated: Tuesday, July 5, 2016 - 9:33am

The wording of a ballot measure that would allow marijuana for recreational use is raising questions about whether it could allow people to drive with the drug in their system. Arizona currently lacks a legal standard that would help clarify the issue.

The text of the initiative appearing on November’s ballot says people can be charged with driving while impaired even if marijuana is legalized for recreational use.

With alcohol, the legal limit is .08 percent, but there’s no similar rule for pot.

Attorney Ryan Hurley who represents initiative organizers said lawmakers could enact such a standard, though he contends that marijuana use alone doesn’t mean a driver is under the influence.

“We don’t want people to be punished merely for the fact that they are using marijuana," Hurley said. "If we had not put that provision in there, that’s exactly what would have happened. We don’t want to criminalize the use of it, while decriminalizing possession.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is a foe of the initiative.

“You’re gonna wind up litigating that, and I don’t know what a court’s gonna do it,” Montgomery said.

He said the very language of the measure precludes DUI enforcement.

"It says you can't be penalized solely on the basis on the presence of the metabolites or components of marijuana," Montgomery said.

But Hurley argues even if lawmakers fail to enact a per se limit, that doesn't mean those driving with marijuana can't be stopped and prosecuted.

In Colorado, which legalized recreational use of the drug, the law says drivers with five nanograms of active THC in their blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence of drugs.

"However, no matter the level of THC, law enforcement officers base arrests on observed impairment,'' according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Much of the debate that will play out between now and the November election will be on the pros and cons of legalized recreational use of the drug. That will include debate over whether marijuana is better or worse than alcohol which, like marijuana would be if this measure is approved, is legal for adults.

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