Accuse and Convict
Driving under the influence of marijuana ("stoned driving") is becoming increasingly common — and difficult to determine what levels cause impairment and for how long. In fact, some governmental studies indicate that marijuana has little if any effect on the ability to safely operate a vehicle.
Faced with the difficulties of proving that a driver was actually impaired, states are turning to the simple — but unjust — expedient of ignoring whether the driver was actually impaired and simply making it a crime to have the chemical compounds of marijuana in his body. This is roughly the equivalent of changing the existing DUI laws to criminalize driving with any detectable amount alcohol in your system — even if you are stone sober.
Notice the changing focus of the DUI laws (alcohol, drugs and marijuana) away from the original goal of public safety. The focus is shifting from the original question, "Was the driver impaired by alcohol and/or drugs so that his ability to safely operate a vehicle was impaired — and thus a potential danger to the public?" to "What is the easiest way to accuse and convict?" A news story a couple of days ago presents a clear example of this.
An appeals court has issued a ruling that upholds the right of authorities to prosecute pot smokers in Arizona for driving under the influence even when there is no evidence that they are actually high. The ruling by the Court of Appeals focuses on the chemical compounds in marijuana that show up in blood and urine tests after people smoke pot. One chemical compound causes drivers to be impaired; another is a chemical that stays in people's systems for weeks after they've smoked marijuana but doesn't affect impairment.
The court ruled that both compounds apply to Arizona law, meaning a driver doesn't have to actually be impaired to get prosecuted for DUI. As long as there is evidence of marijuana in their system, they can get a DUI, the court said. The ruling overturns a decision by a lower court judge who said it didn't make sense to prosecute a person with no evidence they're under the influence.
The Court of Appeals said the Legislature adopted the decades-old comprehensive DUI law to protect public safety, so a provision on prohibited substances and their resulting chemical compounds should be interpreted broadly to include inactive compounds as well as active ones. The case stems from a 2010 traffic stop in Maricopa County. The motorist's blood test revealed only a chemical compound that is found in the blood after another compound produced from ingesting marijuana breaks down.
According to testimony by a prosecution criminalist, the compound found in the man's blood doesn't impair the ability to drive but can remain detectable for four weeks. So in Arizona you can be arrested for DUI if blood tests indicate you've smoked marijuana — possibly before driving- and even if the chemical compounds are inactive — that is, have no effect whatever!
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