Medical marijuana patients across the state got great news from the Arizona Supreme Court on April 22, when the judges ruled that police can’t charge drivers with being under the influence simply based on the presence of metabolites of cannabis in their blood.
The ruling comes in the case of Hrach Shilgevorkyan, a Valley man pulled over in late 2010 for speeding and unsafe lane changes. Officers suspected Shilgevorkyan was impaired, and he admitted using marijuana the night before, so his blood was drawn. No alcohol was found, but Shilgevorkyan’s blood tested positive for carboxy-THC, a byproduct of marijuana that can linger in blood for days or even weeks, and he was charged with DUI.
Shilgevorkyan asked the justice court to dismiss the case, arguing that he wasn’t impaired and hadn’t used cannabis before driving. The justice court dismissed the case. The dismissal was affirmed in Maricopa County Superior Court, but the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Shilgevorkyan then appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which threw out the DUI conviction and offered its interpretation of the DUI statute.
The high court based its decision on the legislature’s intent to prevent impaired driving, not merely to prevent driving with evidence of marijuana use in blood. Because carboxy-THC does not cause impairment, the court ruled, it can’t be used as evidence to prosecute drivers. Hydroxy-THC – a metabolite that does cause impairment but is undetectable in blood within hours – can still be the basis for a DUI charge, the justices said.
Shilgevorkyan’s victory is of interest to almost every medical marijuana patient in the state, because virtually all patients have carboxy-THC in their blood at all times. We’re glad the court has struck down this unfair DUI statute. The ruling is a big relief for patients across Arizona.