Defendants were medical marijuana cardholders convicted of drug DUI for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana or its metabolite. Were defendants immune from drug DUI prosecution under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act? Conviction affirmed on appeal.
To learn more, read our discussion about drug DUI in Arizona law and how to prepare your DUI defense strategy.
Two individuals who had medical marijuana carts (MJ cards) were arrested, charged, and convicted of an (A)(3) DUI. The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) broadly immunizes patients who are MJ cardholders for their medical marijuana use, as follows:
Each defendant was charged with two counts of DUI under (A)(1) and (A)(3), however the State dismissed the (A)(1) charges (“impaired to the slightest decree”). Blood test results showed the presence in the body of marijuana and its impairing metabolites. The defendants were tried and convicted in Mesa municipal court. At trial, the judge denied one defendant’s motion to present her Oregon MJ-card as evidence. The other defendant was also precluded from introducing an Arizona MJ-card as evidence.
On the one hand, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) allows a patient diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition to obtain an MJ-card identifying that person as allowed to possess and use a limited amount of medical marijuana. AMMA, ARS § 36-2801, et seq.
On the other hand, Arizona DUI law makes it a crime to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of certain impairing drugs, such as marijuana or impairing marijuana metabolites. Arizona DUI, ARS § 28-1381(A)(3).
The Supreme Court of Arizona held that defendant’s MJ-card issued under the AMMA does not immunize that driver from prosecution for drug DUI. However, the MJ cardholder may raise an affirmative defense to an (A)(3) DUI that the amount of marijuana or marijuana metabolite in the body was not sufficient to impair that driver.
After trial in Mesa municipal court, both defendants were convicted of the following (A)(3) DUI charge:
Defendants appealed to the Superior Court in Maricopa County which affirmed the convictions (Honorable Crane McClennan presiding). Defendants then sought special action review in the Arizona Court of Appeals. The appeals court affirmed the convictions, holding that the AMMA does not provide immunity from prosecution for driving with an “impermissible drug or impairing metabolite in their bodies” under current Arizona DUI law.
Because of statewide importance and need for statutory interpretation, the Arizona Supreme Court granted review to answer the question of whether or not the AMMA immunizes the MJ cardholder from DUI prosecution under ARS § 28-1381(A)(3). The high court affirmed the Maricopa County Superior Court’s decision and vacated the Court of Appeals opinion.
The Arizona Supreme Court held that:
Lastly, the trial court’s exclusion of defendants’ MJ cards was harmless error given defendants failed to offer any evidence that concentrations of the prescribed drug or drug metabolites were insufficient to cause impairment.
Read more about the case here: Dobson v. Hon. Crane McClennen
For precise language, read the court’s original opinion. Legal citations omitted.