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Medical Marijuana Cards Do Not Exempt Illinois Drivers From DUIs

Illinois recently updated its DUI law in response to its new medical marijuana law, which became effective in January of 2014. Under the new law, an authorized medical marijuana user can legally use marijuana and operate a motor vehicle as long as he or she is not impaired while driving. However, a licensed user now gives up certain rights in exchange for this immunity. Normally, under Illinois law, a person being investigated for a DUI is not required to submit to field sobriety tests and there is no penalty for refusing to take or failing the tests. Under the new law, however, a licensed marijuana user must submit to these tests if the officer has reasonable suspicion the person is driving under the influence of marijuana. If the licensed user fails or refuses testing, he is subject to suspension or revocation of his driving privileges.

This October, an Arizona appellate court came to a similar, if slightly less explicitly stated, conclusion, holding that drivers with medical marijuana licenses can nonetheless be charged with driving under the influence.

Before the court was the question of whether Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) prohibited the State from prosecuting a licensed marijuana user for a DUI. The court concluded that AMMA does not grant such immunity.

In 2011, Defendant, a licensed medical marijuana user, was found guilty of DUI by a jury after being arrested while driving with THC in his blood. The jury acquitted Defendant of the first count – driving while impaired – but convicted him of the second – having an illegal drug in his system.

Defendant argued that AMMA renders all licensed marijuana users immune from DUI prosecution unless they are impaired. Specifically, he relied on the following language under Arizona law: “[…] except that a registered qualifying patient shall not be considered to be under the influence of marijuana solely because of the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana that appear insufficient to cause impairment.” This language, Defendant contended, suggests that a registered qualifying patient is subject to prosecution only under the provision of the statute requiring the state to prove impairment. He therefore concluded that AMMA gives an authorized patient immunity from prosecution under the DUI provision banning a person from driving with a prohibited drug in the person’s body.

The appellate court found to the contrary. If AMMA was intended to protect medical marijuana users from prosecution, it held, it would have specifically said so: “In the absence of specific wording, we will not presume the electorate intended otherwise.”

In a concurring opinion, Arizona Judge Kent Cattani upheld the finding in the specific case because the Defendant failed to show he was unimpaired, but agreed with Defendant’s contention that AMMA does provide medical marijuana users a valid defense to a DUI charge under the portion of the statute penalizing driving with illegal drugs in one’s system.

study published this October found that, based on research in the past 20 years, driving while under the influence of cannabis approximately doubles the risk of a car accident. Sam Tracy, Cannabis Consultant & Civil Liberties Activist, argues that, while impaired driving is undoubtedly a huge problem in this country, states should begin to separate marijuana DUI laws from alcohol DUI laws: “to ensure that no sober drivers are wrongly convicted,” Tracy says, “states should judge impairment by field sobriety tests of motor skills and brain function rather than arbitrary concentrations of THC in the bloodstream.”

While the Illinois legislature appears to have more explicitly addressed the impact of recent medical marijuana laws on driving laws than Arizona’s, the Arizona opinion provides a useful warning that a medical marijuana license does not constitute a free pass to drive while impaired.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI, DWI, or drunk driving lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation for those in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses. To learn more and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 217.525.0520.

More Blog Posts:

DUI on a bicycle? It depends., Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, September 12, 2014

DUI fatality cases in Illinois, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, August 29, 2014

Illinois DUI look back periods, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, August 15, 2014


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