Since the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act was passed in 2010, the number of people using marijuana for medicinal use has steadily increased. The Arizona Department of Health Services April 2017 report shows there are currently more than 125,000 qualifying medical marijuana patients in Arizona, with more than 82,000 of them being new applications. Many of these patients/marijuana users are also licensed drivers, which may leave other drivers wondering how their marijuana use may affect them in a car crash. This is not unique to Arizona as 29 states have legalized medical marijuana usage with 8 states that have full recreational legalization.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports marijuana users are twice as likely as sober drivers to be found guilty in fatal crashes. The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists several ways marijuana use impairs driving, including:
- Slowed reaction time
- Impaired judgement
- Lowered concentration
- Poor motor coordination
While driving as marijuana effects start to take place increases these risk factors, the effects of marijuana use are not as quantifiable compared to that of alcohol use. While a breathalyzer test can immediately show law enforcement the blood alcohol concentration of a driver, no such test exists for marijuana users.
Marijuana metabolites may stay in someone’s system for up to a month after they use marijuana. Technically, if someone is driving sober, a blood test may still find that they were “under the influence” of marijuana. Here’s what to be aware of regarding medical marijuana use and driving in Arizona.
How Medical Marijuana Use Plays into DUI Cases
If you are a medical marijuana user, and you are pulled over for a driving offense, you can be charged with a driving under the influence charge no matter how long it has been since you ingested the substance. In 2016, the Arizona Court of Appeals did rule that medical marijuana users who are charged with a DUI may attempt to show the court that the amount of marijuana in the body was not enough to cause impairment, through cross-examination of prosecution or via their own testimony.
Despite this option, if you use medical marijuana in Arizona and have your medical card, know that you are still undergoing a risky action each time you get behind the wheel and should take every precaution possible to be a defensive, safe driver on the road.
If you choose to continue driving as a medical marijuana user, make sure to take these precautions to protect yourself and other motorists while driving:
- Never drive while high: If you feel like there is the slightest chance you are impaired, don’t get behind the wheel. Orally ingested marijuana can cause a high that lasts more than 6 hours, and using powerful strains can cause a high that lasts a full 24 hours. Total costs for a DUI can average between $4,000 to $10,000 in Arizona, in addition to time spent going to counseling and the loss of a license for a certain amount of time. Even if you feel capable of driving, ask yourself if you’re willing to take the risk before getting behind the wheel.
- Avoid the appearance of being under the influence: If you are a medical marijuana user, and you live with other medical marijuana users, even if you drive sober but smell like marijuana, you might cause suspicion in a crash that can be held against you. Bloodshot eyes are another sign someone has been smoking. If you’re experiencing them because of another reason, such as allergies, use eye drops before driving sober.
- Employ defensive driving: The best way to avoid the hassle of being accused of being high after a crash is to not get in a crash in the first place. Follow all safe driving laws, such as adhering to speed limit laws, coming to complete stops at stop signs, not running red lights, and avoiding risky drivers. Other drivers who are under the influence pose a threat to sober medical marijuana card holders, so steer clear of dangerous drivers when you’re driving.
If you feel like there are any risks of your medical marijuana card coming into play after a crash, use a ridesharing program or public transportation to avoid driving altogether.
What to Do If You Suspect a Driver in a Crash Is High
If you are in an accident with someone who you think was high behind the wheel, their possession of a medical marijuana card is no excuse for negligent driving behavior. You may be able to build a case with a car accident injury lawyer if you and/or your vehicle sustain damages, and you believe another party was driving while under the influence. In any crash, take these steps to protect yourself.
- Call emergency services: Getting a police report is crucial to obtain the compensation you deserve after an accident. Police will be able to document their account of the other party and note if there’s any suspicion of another driver being high.
- Document the scene: Take photos of all vehicles involved to document the damage, and also get photos of any injuries. If you are unable to do this, ask a friend or friendly bystander for help.
- Get contact information of witnesses: Ask for the full name, phone number, address and email address of any witnesses at the scene. Police should be able to help with this, but having this information for your own records is also helpful for a future case.
- Obtain medical attention: If you have been injured, agree to any medical services that are offered. Even if you feel fine, it’s still wise to get checked out, because you may have potential neck or back injuries or another ailment that is not immediately noticeable.
- Contact a car accident attorney: If you notice another party displaying any behavior that indicates they might be high, you should consult with a car accident lawyer immediately. Heavy breathing, red eyes, the scent of marijuana, or dizziness or dazed behavior may indicate that a driver was high. If the driver is in possession of a medical marijuana card, they might have smoked before driving, and this is important information that can help you recover damages. An attorney will be able to gather information needed for a compelling case, such as proving a suspected negligent party is in possession of a medical marijuana card.
Across the country, car accident rates are increasing as more states legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use. CNBC reports where states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, car crash rates are 3 percent higher than they’d be without legal marijuana, which affects thousands of people. As increasing numbers of people get their medical marijuana cards in Arizona, it’s important that both users and non-using drivers keep themselves safe on the road.