Legalization of Marijuana and DUI in Arizona

Throughout Arizona, DUI attorneys are reporting an uptick in DUI arrest cases since voters passed Proposition 207. Proposition 207 decriminalized the use of marijuana and joined neighboring states California and Nevada in allowing the recreational use of marijuana.

The state has yet to release new data on DUI charges since dispensaries were permitted to begin growing and selling marijuana in January 2021. However, data from other states who have legalized the drug for recreational use show that this process does generally lead to an increase in DUI charges, at least for a few months.

California legalized marijuana in January 2018. In the months following, local law enforcement issued 70 percent more DUI charges than they did leading up to the legalization. Likewise, Colorado saw a 151 percent increase in traffic fatalities from marijuana use in 2012 after the state legalized the drug.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released studies that outline how THC, the substance in marijuana that makes people feel high impacts cognitive performance. Cognitive performance is essential for safe driving practices and reaction times to respond to road emergencies.

With the legalization of marijuana, it’s important that you understand your rights in Arizona and how this substance impacts the body when driving. We’ll analyze how marijuana impacts the body and explain the difference between a marijuana DUI and an alcohol DUI.

Training for law enforcement

One aspect of the increase in DUI charges that not many people are talking about is the fact that local law enforcement has been undergoing training for identifying marijuana use behind the wheel and properly administering tests for the substance.

Proposition 207 included funding for training and equipping law enforcement with the proper equipment to test for marijuana impairment behind the wheel. But like anything new, there’s a learning curve in administering these tests appropriately.

Drawing blood properly is more challenging than you might think, and one small misstep could make the blood draw invalid. As law enforcement undergoes training for proper testing methods, there is a huge opportunity to challenge the validity of these tests due and investigate their validity in court.

Marijuana vs. alcohol DUI charges

Arizona has a law that states that an arresting officer can charge a driver with a DUI from impairment to the slightest degree. The challenge with the legalization of marijuana is that its effects are not as clear as alcohol.

Alcohol impairment dissipates within a few hours. However, marijuana can remain in the body for several days without impacting impairment.

A huge factor for marijuana impairment is how the substance was consumed. Inhaling it tends to wear off quicker than ingesting it through edibles. But other factors also play a role in the level of impairment marijuana can have on the body, such as a person’s body weight and metabolism.

This is where we need far more education about marijuana and DUI charges. The THC levels in your body could still show the substance long after its impairments have worn off.

However, alcohol impairment is far clearer cut. Levels of .08 blood alcohol content in the body will have a significant impact on a person’s cognitive abilities. There are several ways of testing for blood alcohol content, including a field sobriety test, breathalyzer, blood draw and urine test.

Currently, blood tests are the only way to prove marijuana use in a DUI case. More testing methods are currently in trials and studies, but we don’t know when we might have backup methods for testing the validity of blood draws.

Your Arizona DUI rights

When you’re charged with a DUI, you have the right to remain silent and to have an attorney present. You should exercise both of these rights for the best chance of avoiding a DUI conviction.

If you’re facing a DUI charge, contact our office immediately. We’ll provide the legal defense you need to avoid the severe impacts a DUI conviction could have on you.