The Law Offices of John Phebus

Pot legalization and driving standards

Although Arizona allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes under the state's Medical Marijuana Act passed in 2010, driving with a slight degree of impairment can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony violation. The presence of THC in the blood can also serve as grounds for charges, but collecting blood can be an invasive method for evaluating an individual's alleged use of marijuana. Further, the presence of metabolites may not clearly provide an understanding of an individual's impairment level. As many states have legalization of marijuana initiatives on the ballot in November, a Stanford research team may provide answers for those needing reliable methods for field tests of marijuana intoxication.

Drunk driving charges are typically based on reliable measures of blood alcohol content through breath testing. The Stanford project involves a similar test for THC in the saliva. With a swab, an official can collect a saliva sample in a minimally invasive manner. This may provide much more accuracy in assessing current impairment levels as well. Any THC in the sample is exposed to antibodies, which will react to the substance. The number of activated antibodies provides a measure of impairment.

While the technology offers a promising approach for marijuana testing, standards for defining illegal usage levels may be vague. State lawmakers may be pressed to establish clear levels to address the impact of the increasing legal access to marijuana in other states. Those using the substance for medical purposes could be particularly affected in situations involving blood testing.

In a hypothetical scenario, an individual using marijuana for medical purposes could experience an adverse health situation while driving, which could incorrectly be attributed to substance use rather than an underlying medical condition. A lawyer might be helpful in such a situation, providing medical evidence to corroborate a client's explanation of health problems.

Source: FindLaw, "Arizona Marijuana Laws", accessed on Sept. 18, 2016

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