AZ Court Blazes New Trail Regarding Cannabis DUIs
Big news out of Arizona this week where the state’s Court of Appeals ruled against local law enforcement and tossing out landmark case that stemmed from the 2013 arrest of a man named Nadir Ishtak.
Mr. Ishtak, a registered medical marijuana patient in Arizona, was driving home one evening when he was pulled over by a traffic cop. The cop insisted that he saw Ishtak’s car briefly drift over the center line and then reported that the driver’s eyes appeared bloodshot and watery.
He caught two charges that night. One was for a DUI, which he was never convicted of. But the second was for driving with cannabis in his system. During his day in court, Ishtak was not allowed to present evidence that he was a MMJ patient.
Now, five years after his initial arrest, Ishtak finally received some justice and, in the process, may have set a massively important precedent for how our society as a whole decides to treat cannabis and driving.
As you well know, many states are struggling to figure out how to treat drivers that are suspected of having cannabis in their system. There are so many variables involved on a case-by-case basis that so far nobody has come up with a rule or law that would treat all cannabis users fairly.
Let’s face it, if having any trace of a medication barred people from driving, LA traffic problems would vanish overnight. Our roads would be empty from coast to coast.
Tolerance levels vary greatly by user and a half a toke off some outdoor mids 3 weeks ago could potentially raise a red flag in a piss test today even though the effects wore off two dozen days ago.
Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Division states on their official website:
It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects… It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone, and currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH concentrations.
So, really, the decision this week for Judge Diane M. Johnsen was a simple one.
Right before she crumpled up the prosecution’s case and Kobe’d it into the trashcan forever, she dropped a few bombs from the bench.
First, she rightly pointed out that nowhere in Arizona state law does it say that registered MMJ patients are not allowed to have any THC in their system.
In fact, she continues, the law does not give ANY max limit when it comes to cannabis levels in the bloodstream.
And so, she ruled that:
[A]n authorized medical marijuana user charged with violating [the law] may establish the affirmative defense… by showing a preponderance of the evidence that the marijuana metabolite concentration in his or her system was insufficient to cause him to be impaired at the time he or she operated or was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle.
In other words, if you are a registered MMJ patient in Arizona and have been or are ever popped for a cannabis-related DUI, Judge Johnsen says FIGHT IT.
By this ruling, the burden of proof goes rightfully back into the hands of the cops and prosecutors.
If they want to charge a registered medical marijuana patient with a cannabis-related DUI, now the state must prove that the driver was “impaired”. Good fuckin luck, for all the reasons we have laid out above.
In response, defendants may now present their own evidence that they were not impaired (lol) and can even cross-examine the arresting officer(s) and state forensics experts.
This is a huge advancement for the normalization of cannabis, though it has kicked off in a non-recreational state so it is limited to MMJ patients for now. The hope is that this ruling will be used as legal precedent to spread this common sense lawmaking across our entire country.