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Can Marijuana Use Lead to DUI Charges in Arizona?

DUI Defense LawyerIn recent years, marijuana legalization has become a hot topic in the United States. Several states have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use. In 2020, Arizona joined these states when voters passed Proposition 207. However, while people over the age of 21 are allowed to possess, transport, and use a certain amount of marijuana, they should be aware that driving while under the influence of marijuana could potentially lead to DUI charges.

Marijuana DUI Laws in Arizona

With the changes in the laws, marijuana is now treated in a similar fashion as alcohol. Adults can use marijuana, but they are prohibited from operating a vehicle when they are intoxicated. While Arizona law defines a specific level of intoxication that applies to alcohol use, it has not been updated to detail when a person may be under the influence of marijuana. Instead, the state's laws prohibit adults over the age of 21 from being in physical control of a motor vehicle when they are impaired "to the slightest degree" due to the use of marijuana or a combination of marijuana and alcohol or other substances.

A DUI charge involving intoxication by marijuana, alcohol, or other substances is a Class 1 misdemeanor. In first-time DUI cases, a person who is convicted will be sentenced to a minimum of 10 days in jail. However, all but one day of a sentence can be suspended if a person successfully completes a drug or alcohol screening, education, or treatment program. Other penalties of a conviction include a minimum fine of $250 along with at least $1,000 of other fees and assessments and the requirement to attend a traffic safety course. A person's driver's license may also be suspended for up to 90 days, and they may be required to use an ignition interlock device in their vehicle for up to one year after their license is reinstated. Finally, a person may be ordered to complete a certain number of hours of community restitution (also known as community service).

If a person had been convicted of DUI within the past seven years, a subsequent DUI conviction will result in harsher penalties. The minimum sentence for this offense is 90 days in jail, and at least 30 consecutive days must be served. If a person completes a treatment program, all but 30 days of their sentence may be suspended. A person's driver's license will be revoked for one year, and they will face a minimum fine of $500, as well as at least $2,500 of other fees and court costs. They will also be required to complete at least 30 hours of community restitution, and they must attend a traffic safety course.

A third or subsequent DUI conviction will be even more serious. Felony charges will apply in these situations. A person who is convicted of felony DUI may be sentenced to over one year in prison and fined several thousand dollars, and their driver's license may be revoked for multiple years.

Issues That May Affect Marijuana DUI Cases

As mentioned above, Arizona does not have a legal limit for the amount of marijuana in a person's system that will cause them to be considered to be intoxicated. Unlike alcohol intoxication, which is established if a person had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent within two hours of operating a vehicle, there is no equivalent measurement that determines that a person is intoxicated by marijuana. This may make marijuana DUI cases more complicated, since it is not always easy to understand when a person may be under the influence of marijuana and in violation of DUI laws.

When police officers pull over a driver because they suspect that the person is under the influence, they may ask the driver to submit to a roadside breathalyzer test that will provide an estimate of their BAC. However, no such test exists to gauge the level of marijuana in a person's system and determine whether they may be intoxicated. Because of this, police officers may rely on field sobriety tests to determine whether there is probable cause to perform an arrest based on suspicion that a driver is under the influence of marijuana.

In cases where an officer suspects that a driver has been using marijuana, they may ask the driver to perform certain physical tests. There are three standardized field sobriety tests that are typically used by police officers. The "walk and turn" test will require a person to walk in a straight line, turn around, and walk back to their original position, and the officer will watch to see if they stumble or lose their balance. The "one leg stand" test will require a person to stand with one foot raised in the air for 30 seconds, and if they cannot do so without putting their foot down or losing their balance, this may be a reason to believe they are intoxicated. With the "horizontal gaze nystagmus" test, an officer will ask a person to track an object with their eyes as it is moved from side to side, and involuntary jerking of the eyes may indicate intoxication. Drivers are allowed to refuse to take field sobriety tests. These tests can often be inaccurate, and there are a variety of other factors that can affect the outcome and potentially lead to an arrest.

If an officer chooses to arrest a person based on the results of field sobriety tests or a refusal to take these tests, the driver will be taken to a police station, where they will be asked to submit to chemical testing to determine if they have intoxicating substances in their system. However, even if a blood or urine test finds that a driver has THC (the chemical in marijuana that causes intoxication) in their system, this is not necessarily an indication that the driver was under the influence. People absorb THC into their bodies at different rates, and THC can remain in a person's system for an extended period of time. Because of this, it may be possible to challenge a marijuana-related DUI charge and question whether there is sufficient evidence showing that a person was intoxicated.

Get Help From a DUI Defense Lawyer

Because of the complex issues surrounding marijuana-related DUI cases, it is important for anyone facing these types of charges to secure representation from a lawyer who has experience defending clients against DUI charges. A Tuscon marijuana DUI defense attorney can help challenge the evidence, demonstrate that a driver was not intoxicated, and work to avoid a conviction.

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