PHOENIX - The state Supreme Court has ruled that the presence of non-impairing marijuana compounds detected in a person's body does not give authorities the right to prosecute under Arizona's driving under the influence laws.
Last year, the state Court of Appeals upheld the right of authorities to prosecute pot smokers for DUI even when there is no evidence of impairment.
The Supreme Court opinion released Tuesday notes that while Arizona statute makes it illegal for a driver to be impaired by marijuana use, the presence of a non-psychoactive compound does not constitute impairment under the law.
The opinion focuses on two chemical compounds in marijuana that show up in blood and urine tests -- one that causes impairment and one that stays in the consumer's systems for weeks but doesn't cause impairment.
It means medical marijuana users can get behind the wheel of a car and not worry about being charged with a DUI as long as they're not impaired.
This applies even if some marijuana still shows up in their system if they're pulled over.
Former college basketball player Alex Schmidt is now a medical marijuana card holder.
He suffers from arthritis due to injuries on the court.
“I'm not per se a stoner. I more just use it to deal with pain and go about my daily life not thinking about it,” Schmidt said.
The ASU student uses medical marijuana every day. He takes the light rail to get to class.
“I can usually just feel if it would be too detrimental for me to drive right,” he said.
The Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling could put medical marijuana users like him at ease.
“You shouldn't be convicted of driving under the influence when you have something in your body that cannot cause impairment. It just doesn't make sense,” said attorney Michael Alarid, III of the Law Offices of David Michael Cantor.
Alarid represented a Valley man busted for DUI weeks after smoking marijuana.
His case was originally dismissed, but the court of appeals reversed it.
Tuesday's ruling dismisses his charge.
Alarid said the man was not a medical marijuana card holder.
“What this doesn't do is it does not give anybody a license to smoke marijuana or ingest marijuana, feel the effects of it, feel impaired by it and go out and drive. It does not do that,” Alarid said.
Alex hopes the ruling is the start of big changes.
“I'm not at all saying you can't get a DUI and be too impaired to drive with marijuana. But there's a .08 for alcohol. There should really be something similar for marijuana too,” he said.
The Maricopa County Attorney's office does not plan to appeal the ruling.