In Arizona, both medical and recreational marijuana use is legal, allowing individuals to enjoy the benefits of cannabis within the boundaries of the law. However, it is vital to understand that driving under the influence of marijuana in Flagstaff and Northern Arizona can lead to severe consequences, including being charged with a marijuana DUI. If you are facing these charges, you need to seek the assistance of an experienced Flagstaff criminal defense lawyer who can mount an aggressive defense to help you avoid the harsh punishments you may face.
Types of Marijuana DUI Offenses in Arizona
Under ARS §13-3401(19), marijuana is defined as all growing and nongrowing parts of the cannabis plant, including the seeds. However, the mature stalks and sterilized seeds that cannot be germinated are excluded from the definition. Under ARS §28-1381, you could be charged with one of two marijuana DUI offenses.
- Impaired to the slightest degree. Under ARS §28-1381(A)(1), it is against the law to drive while under the influence of THC to the "slightest degree." If your blood or urine test reveals any traceable amount of marijuana or its metabolites, and it is determined that your ability to operate a vehicle was impaired to the slightest degree, you may be charged with a DUI. The prosecution must prove that the presence of marijuana in your system affected your driving ability.
- Drug DUI. Under ARS §28-1381A)(3), the police could also arrest you for a drug DUI if you drive under the influence of marijuana or its metabolite. Under this type of marijuana DUI offense, the prosecutor would have to prove the existence of marijuana or its metabolite in your system while you were driving to prove your guilt. They would not need to show that you were impaired while you were driving.
What to Consider if You Face Marijuana DUI Charges
Arizona has a unique marijuana statute under the law. It can be illegal in some situations and legal in others. Even though Arizonians cannot possess marijuana for recreational use, this drug is legal with a doctor’s prescription. And even if you have a medical need for marijuana, it’s illegal in Arizona to drive impaired if you’re using it. Because a prosecutor has only to prove you were driving impaired “to the slightest degree,” you can easily be convicted of a marijuana DUI.
Types of Defenses for DUI Charges
- Recreational marijuana. Under Arizona’s recreational marijuana laws, you may have a defense to a DUI drug charge if the prosecutor's evidence of impairment is weak. However, you may still be prosecuted for any amount of THC in your system while driving unless you have a medical marijuana card pursuant to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).
- Medical marijuana. If you possess a medical marijuana card, you may be able to win your marijuana DUI case. However, you may still face a DUI "slightest degree" charge, depending on the prosecutor’s evidence against you. If you have a medical marijuana card, you cannot be convicted of a DUI unless the prosecution proves that you were impaired to the "slightest degree" while driving.
- THC requirement. The prosecution has to prove that you had the psychoactive ingredient, THC, in your system for you to be found guilty of a marijuana DUI. If you only have a metabolite of THC in your body, the prosecutor would not meet their burden of proof to convict you.
Penalties for a First Marijuana DUI Conviction
You can face severe penalties and the long-term consequences of a permanent criminal record if convicted of a marijuana DUI crime. A first offense would be charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor. The penalties can include the following:
- Jail time. You may face a minimum of 10 consecutive days in jail, up to a maximum of six months. The court may suspend all but one day of jail time if you complete drug or alcohol screening and classes.
- Fines. You can expect fines and court costs of $2,000 or more.
- License suspension. Your driver's license could be suspended for 90 days. You may be able to obtain a restricted license for the last 60 days of your license suspension.
- Ignition interlock device. The judge might require the installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for at least 12 months. However, they have the discretion not to require this.
- Drug counseling or treatment. Completion of a drug counseling or treatment program may be mandatory.